Saturday, October 13, 2018

Picking Up Where I had Left Off...

     I did go to Floyd Bennett Field yesterday to bird, but totally got distracted when I suddenly saw black clouds billowing up from the trees. Fearing there was a large brush fire, I drove to another vantage point. I found there was a barge under the Belt Parkway on Fire. Texting, probably way too much to Tim about all the excitement. I watched as firefighters had to put out a fire that was well below the parkway and on a floating vessel. It was pretty amazing to watch as the winds didn't give up, only fueling a fire until fire boats arrived. Trust me, you would have watched too!

     So after my project of painting the upstairs hallway ceiling, with paint still on my face and probably in my hair, I went back to Floyd. Picking up where I left off- wanting to scout for some sparrows. I was happy to see the sun came out and couldn't let myself have been confined to our home all day. I sure was happy to get outside, even more so since my little trip was nothing short of perfect.
A savannah sparrow among the savannah of Brooklyn. Floyd Bennet Field provides grassland that is relished by many species, especially unique to this habitat. While Savannah Sparrows can be seen in other open areas, like those among dunes on our coast, or grassy fields in some of our urban parks, they are especially plentiful here.

The Savannah sparrows were busy on the ground foraging with large numbers of American Goldfinch. While I didn't see much other sparrow besides a single swamp sparrow I relished seeing some other things...

Like this yellow-billed cuckoo who just flew into the tree I was watching sparrows and goldfinch in. They are such cool birds, and a little weird too, I think that's why I like them.

Thanks to a tip from friends, I went down to Archery Road to hopefully see some birds that I needed for 2018. They were not black-bellied plovers. But I was still happy to see them, none-the-less. I think they look quite dapper in their winter plumage.

This is the bird I was very happy to see, a red knot. I wonder where it's final winter destination is, maybe Brazil, maybe even further south. Many birds fly wayyyy down to Tierra del Fuego, just a stones throw from the Antarctic. That's incredible after having spent the summer at or in the Arctic Circle.

If this image of a black-bellied plover doesn't warm your heart for even just a flicker of a moment, putting your scientist hat aside, this little bird is so cute.
Admit it.
Be a pLOVER not a fighter.

There were 4 red knots here when I arrived. All picking at the barnacles and whatever was living among them. It's time to fuel up, this bird has a long trip ahead! Better get a move-on because...
... Winter is coming.

(Brants are/have been back and I'm sure more are on the way!)

It's Raining Raptors!

     Fall is only good for one thing, raptors. I love birds of prey and yesterday there was quite a good show of them over Marine Park in Brooklyn.
     The park is currently having its open grassland mowed, and on my morning run through the park I noticed a lot of small sparrows and finches flying from the freshly mowed area, probably reaping the bounty left behind.
     I returned hoping to find some sparrows, but they were mowing, and obviously any birds were flushed from those areas. I also didn't see nearly as many smaller birds as I did during my run and with mowing, high winds, and predators above, it was a perfect storm to keep small birds hidden.
     But I am not complaining, I love those predators sailing on the wind...

I found upon entering the nature center trail, a green heron. Mainly focused on the rising tide and what it brought with it.

We had a brief moment of acknowledgment. 

With winds whipping, this little yellow-rumped warbler held tightly to the branches of this sumac as it swayed loosely in the gusts.

A lot of sharp-shinned hawk action. These little hawks, smaller than a crow were all over the air. Sometimes even pushing the Cooper's hawks around, who are half a size larger.

A great blue heron maneuvers through the wind for a better fishing spot.

It was truly a raptor fest, a familiar shape in the sky- it spoke eagle.
A juvenile bald eagle shakily soared against the wind.
In addition to this eagle and the sharp-shinned hawk, I also observed Cooper's hawks, red tailed hawk, merlin, and American kestrels (below). At certain points I'd be able to look up and see multiple species and multiple individuals at once.

A female American Kestrel gave me quite show over the mowed grasses. She was busy hunting, presumable the insects that have been exposed by the absence of the grasses.

She hovered and swooped, over and over as she honed in on her prey.

While I admit, these aren't amazing shots- I am in love with how the light highlights the barring on her wings and tail. The hovering behavior of kestrels, as they hold their place in the air makes for a great chance to capture a photo of this otherwise fast-moving bird.
I noticed some dragonflies flying near where I was and she even, without hesitation took a couple of close passes my way, which is so amazing to experience. You feel like you're acceptable enough to be in their world, and you don't deter them from what they need to do.


If you look juuuuust in front of her feet, you see the grasshopper just escaping her talons and jumping away. She proceeded to pounce about 3-4 more times. I don't think she managed to catch this (very lucky) little insect.
I love being able to be part of their world and observe them acting naturally without causing them distraction, this for me is the most satisfying part of birding for me.

The least shy Northern Flicker. Usually you just make eye contact with these birds and they are off. Granted this bird was pretty far away and up high in a tree, I was still amazed it let me look at it.

Was so happy to see that the green heron was still there on my way out. 
Found some house sparrows being car sparrows around and under my car.

I guess the wind was even too much for them... I shoo'd 8 birds out from my car!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Global Big Day!

     Today was a global big day. That means it's an all you can bird feast for a full day!

     I birded with a few folks throughout the day but from 7:30am till nearly 5pm, I was able to attain just over 70 species. Within that list, we got the three falcons (American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine), an amazing group of crows that chased and chased a red tail hawk, cooper's, sharp-shinned, and harrier, royal terns, a late least sandpiper, and the last bird of the day was a life bird for me, a dickcissel.
     We raised some money for CVTC in the process, so I am looking forward to what our efforts will reward this organization with!
     The day was overcast, we had to work for birds as much of our views were backlit, up high, and hard to make out. I took very few pictures-- mostly had it on me for if we had anything good or that I needed to prove on an eBird list - glad I had it!
     We birded 3 sites: Prospect Park, Plumb Beach, and Marine Park in Brooklyn.
I kind of expected to see royal terns today at Plumb Beach at low tide. So when I saw 4 in a row, sandwiching a laughing gull, I was pleased.

The coast was the area that best turned up white egrets, both great and snowy. This great egret dreams of being an osprey some day.

"What is that???!"

When strongly backlit, I doubted this as anything spectacular and thought I just had a house sparrow- but its head is so flat.... then, I stepped a few paces to the left, changed the way the light hit this bird and then we realized it had to be something else. Hints of yellow, those fine streaks...My preliminary guesses were bobolink (female/immature) and dickcissel. Definitely not bobolink, upon closer inspection and comparison to guides and google image searches (21st century birding, here). With some encouragement and confirmation from birding friends (thanks Molly & Jeffrey). We felt good confirming this as an immature dickcissel.
A life bird and a great one to end the day on!

I look forward to finding out how much we helped raise for a good cause, and I look forward to see what the compiled eBird lists for the day show for species count world-wide!
I hope folks had an amazing and birdful Big Day today!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The 5th Year

     I have a lot to celebrate today and everyday, 5 years ago on this day I went home from work on my bike and that's all I remember.
     I woke up in a hospital bed, I remember my mom and dad and Tim- I think that was it. Memory then was very fuzzy after being doored by someone exiting a car. Don't remember it happening but my body gave me a few mementos to remember the event by: concussion, complete with brain contusions, lung contusions, fractured skull, fractured clavicle, vertigo, and short term memory loss. My memory was so bad I'd travel to appointments with pad and paper if I had to go alone.
     It was a rough 2 solid months of recovery- I sat home with a cat and parrot. It was depressing- being ordered not to work, but not actually sick. A doctor finally cleared me to start going for walks- actually he recommended it, to build my confidence and short little walks to see how I felt. I'll never forget my first birding walk, the birds, the nature was so therapeutic. Nature and the outdoors heals me- it calms me, focuses me, I get some exercise, and I happen to love the creatures that occupy the outdoors.
     So, I celebrated today. I had just enough time before the sun set to walk around by myself in the salt marsh and enjoy that I still get to live, savor the sights, and experience what life throws my way.
As the tide dropped it invited more and more leggy birds to come feed. A blue heron holds onto a spot it likes. Later black-crowned night herons, yellow-crowned night herons, and greater yellowlegs noisily joined this bird.

This is a female mantis and she is GRAVID! Her fat abdomen is full of eggs. This fall she will leave behind an ootheca, a case that will contain her eggs and over winter attached to a twig or woody reed. She will die with the oncoming cold, but if her ootheca makes it through winter- without becoming a high protein survival snack for a bird-- her babies will emerge in the warm season that follows.
She is a gorgeous creature, I'm in love with mantis'.

Goldenrod- a lifesaver for migrating nectar eaters. Goldenrod blooms into fall and is a lifeline for monarchs, bees, and others. The goldenrod was also amazingly fragrant, and that combined with the smell of salt in the air was perfection.

The most wonderful thing was watching the monarchs carefully select a roost for the night. In the dropping temperatures, the monarchs must rest, they are solar powered and in the night there is much danger. Monarchs find a nice tree and gather overnight for safety. This was one of two, perched together, inches apart.
When they overwinter in Mexico, their roosts are amazing and massive, a natural wonder of its own.
I spied this little corn snake in a tank in the nature center. What a cute little noodle! Reminded me of my late Jake. 

A perfect evening walk to remind myself how fortunate we are to experience the natural world around us.
AND- this Saturday 10/6/18- I am participating in a Global Big Day birding outing with friends- and via the Feminist Bird Club- we are raising money for CVTC- to support victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Please consider supporting us by visiting our donation page, here!
Wish us luck!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Wildlife in South Florida

     The final destination in our Florida Trip was Miami. We stayed in Coral Gables which has a park that's part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, but our sights were on the Everglades. Over three days, we checked out 3 different places: Everglades National Park, Key Largo, and Biscayne Key.
     We might be the few people who visit Miami and barely hang out in the city itself. As for Miami proper and learning about the city, I recommend HistoryMiami, a museum all about Miami, past and present. They have a really cool Miami Street Tradition Exhibit that I enjoyed and a comprehensive permanent collection that takes you back to Miami when it had direwolves living there to the Native Peoples who settled here before Europe arrived through present.
      We visited South Beach by night... on a weekday, if you like restaurants hawking at you to come eat there, I guess that's fun. To be fair it was also September, it's a lull in Tourist season. I also bought Tim some tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld at the Performing Arts Center. That venue was fairly impressive. A hop over to the Winwood neighborhood made us feel like we were in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood as it seemed to be up and coming and held the local population of hipsters. The buildings all have eye-catching graffiti and there is a whole set of walls that invite artists to create a graffiti installment. That was a lot of fun, looked like a place to do some serious instagramming, as most were.
     But anyway- enough with my very few Miami recommendations- onto the wildlife:
Some mating Eastern lubber grasshoppers.
These are massive grasshoppers and notorious pets that can be hard to control. I'm glad I didn't try to pet them, because when disturbed and distressed they can expel a noxious spray and smell through their spiracles.
You can find these grasshopper on blades of grass, clinging tight and eating.

On the Anhinga Trail, this gator was resting on land, drectly below us, standing on the boardwalk.

Saw lots of snakes, anoles, and tadpoles on the Gumbo Limbo Tree Trail.

At the Royal Palms Center, right outside the bathroom, a crowd gathered. Mom and her Brood!
These babies were so fresh and tiny.

These babies even gave a few chirps, to contact their mother, and stay together. Just FYI, baby gator chirps melt my heart, to the max.

My guess is that mom takes her babies close to the center. People are near it keeps predators away. The area they were sitting was in a thicket, probably to avoid the sun. But herons would devour these babies, no problem, if given the chance. Seems they had a good spot.

Loggerhead shrikes were easy to spot, while driving. Takes a perch up on signs, the car acts as a perfect blind. These birds always seemed super shy, so stay in your car if you see one and put on your flashers and enjoy a little butcher bird.

We drove all the way down to the Flamingo center, the southernmost part of the park. It had a lot of storm damage from Hurricane Irma nearly a year ago, so it looks a bit worse for wear. The ranger in the center was helpful in that she filled up our water bottle for us with cold fresh water and she told us where to look for manatee and American crocodile. We saw a manatee, but no crocs- the heat of the day even gets too intense for reptiles who seek shady cover. I think that was the case for when we arrived there.
But upon arriving and parking turkey vulture, waddled like turkey across the lawns and cattle egrets perused the freshly mowed grass. This young turkey vulture was about as cute as they come.

Presuming the bird it was associating with was a parent. A mature bird with that characteristic pink turkey head that gives them their name, I personally have a big adoration for vultures and their ecological role.

White ibises (pictured) and little common ground doves also hung out on the lawns surrounding the Flamingo Center and parking lot.

On the recommendation of the ranger at the Flamingo center, we drove down to the Eco Pond before the camping area. Saw a mature bald eagle before the pond, then heard it calling later, while walking the pond.

The Eco Pond was a short walk (and thank goodness it was), about an 1/8 of a mile. It was also covered in biting flies and mosquitoes. But, it did have the only roseate spoonbills of the trip!
The mosquitoes were never bad, if you were in an open area, especially if exposed to wind. But once you had wind breakers like trees, shrubs and thicket-- all bets are off, you turn into some good mammalian eating!

We drive back north from Flamingo, stopping at point of interest along the way to spy what we could. To be honest, the heat and mosquitoes got to us and any trails seemed not super interesting after getting assaulted in the Flamingo area by biting insects. And then the typical afternoon rain rolled though.

My recommendation when leaving the park, stop at Robert is Here, pet an emu, feed some goats, (wash your hands!), and get a delicious fruit milkshake!!! That made all the heat and biting insects worth it! I am so glad, my good friend Amy recommended this to us.

Another trip took us underwater. We visited Key Largo and did some snorkeling at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The Park has sandy beaches and reefs just offshore, past the mangroves.
It also has another exotic species- the African Red-headed Agama. We saw a male in his red head and indigo bodied glory, but we also saw some females that resemble baby beaded dragons in their appearance. They look similar because these too are in the agama family with beaded dragons.

I like those blues in her face- remind me of the waters we snorkeled in!
While we didn't pack the underwater camera, now having worked in an aquarium for almost 5 years, I was able to identify many of the fish! 2 Species of parrot fish, Spanish hogfish, doctorfish, porkfish, yellow goatfish, yellowtail snapper, trumpetfish, barracuda, spotted eagle rays, among many others were spotted! The reefs themselves look like they are not doing as well as they should, beyond each little bit of reef is just dead and crumbled corals, bleached and lifeless.

On Key Biscane, which is just a short drive from Miami and has some super fancy real estate has a park on its southernmost end. We walked there, hiked up the light house and walked the beach. We spotted small needlefish in the shallow water. But on land, we spotted these black spiny-tailed iguanas. Some were quite hefty and threw their weight around. Those who were the smallest, minded their business and stayed out of trouble, but those in the middle size range, really liked to push the buttons of the bigger individuals.
On our drive back I spotted a magnificent frigate bird over on the the bridges that connected us to the mainland.
If heat and humidity is your thing- then Florida is your place. In winter many of these places would probably be even more fun to bird, as many use these parts as wintering grounds. If you do go in the heat, water is your friend, but also, so is a salty snack. I have never sweat so much from just turning head to look at something. But Florida is a fun place to bird and observe wildlife, especially if you enjoy going for a swim after!