Sunday, December 4, 2016

Bike, Brunch, Bird.

     I met up with some of my wonderful girlfriends for brunch on the Upper West Side this late morning. I decided I would earn my brunch by biking the 12.7 miles there from my home in Brooklyn. It was a perfect day for a ride and wonderful to see my friends. We had a great meal and a cappuccino was perfect to energize me for the ride back.
     Now I do things strategically. I knew I'd have to pass through City Hall Park, exactly where a Western Tanager has been hanging out, plus some bonus (very) late warblers. So instead of taking the train and having to use up swipes, the bike is free, faster, and I can make a pitstop on the way home to tick this one off on my life list.
     Well, needless to say, mission accomplished:
Photos are subpar, but enough to tell the story. Here is my first look at the Western Tanager!

Also spotted, a [pair of red tail hawks, causing a ruckus among the local pigeons.

My favorite part about going to find birds in a peculiar place is the other peculiar and interesting sights you might never notice, like this hair piece on Lady Justice atop City Hall.

A male American kestrel finds this to be a fine perch.

One of the three bonus warblers, a male black-throated blue! I also spotted the common yellowthroat, but missed the ovenbird. It is super amazing that all this was in a patch of shrubs with a few trees growing out between them, between the courthouse and city hall. I am always super amazed at how in such an urban setting, this small little patch of green provides habitat.
I was watching this tanager as it hung out close to a yellow-bellied sapsucker and thought to myself, I have seen so many birds in conjunction with sapsuckers, a yellow-throated warbler, a Couches Kingbird... and this tanager (as well as the yellow-throat that one time) was feeding among the wells drilled by the sapsucker. These wells "bleed" sap as well as exposes and attracts insects and the sapsucker meticulously drills a series of these wells and feeds from them-- but others feed from them too. In my mind I was wondering if sapsuckers would be considered a keystone species, helping to support others in their community. Well upon investigation, it felt really great to find that my observations and my hypothesis are supported by other sources:

Why is this bird so exciting to see? Well, they don't really come to the east coast. Their range is from the plains and west to the Pacific Coast. Also, by now, this bird should be in Southern Mexico to Central America. You can check out their natural history on their Cornell "All About Birds" page:
This bird was not easy to see, it's up high and often on the back sides of thick limbs. Oh yeah, and it's a yellow bird in a tree that is holding onto a few yellow leaves. You really have to crane your neck to see this one.

Also, passerby's -- which there are a lot of in this part of town are all sorts of like "what the hell are you looking at?!"
I'm glad I stopped to catch a sight of this bird on my way home, if you're planning a trip to see her, between this park and Trinity Church just a few blocks south, you can grab 5 rare birds (either out of range or season) in a visit, because the Yellow-breasted Chat is still there (and is apparently a dumpster diver). 
So don't just think NYC's most urban green spaces are just for pigeons, if you look a bit longer, you might discover someone new!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December Walk in Prospect Park

     With the sun shining and mild temperatures I headed to Prospect for a long walk. I just got my binoculars back from Nikon this past week- they fixed the eye cups and cleaned them and they are like brand new. I was very excited to have them back and use them.
     I am also excited to have my binoculars back in time for the Christmas Bird Count in 2 weeks. I look forward to this annual event and enjoy the team leader I continue to join for this walk. This will be my 3rd year participating in the count. Here is more information on the count and how you can participate:
     I saw a total of 33 species today including one I was hoping to see, enjoy the sights!
Heard some singing in the phrags when I first arrived at the lake. I knew it wasn't the house sparrows or red-wing blackbirds... then this guys popped out. A non-native European Goldfinch. My husband asks, "Why is that a goldfinch? It's not very gold." It has yellow on its wings- I suppose the American Goldfinch has a better suiting gold in their finch.
Sweet gum trees are filled with (both) goldfinches, red-winged blackbirds, and lots more chickadees.
A European goldfinch takes advantage of the bounty.
This male cardinal in the midwood area was feasting on fallen seeds (note the crumbs around his beak).
...And he sat for photos.
I was hoping to find one, my first of the season fox sparrow! I love their rusty brown color, their chunky size, they are just very beautiful birds.
A melanistic squirrel on the Neathermead fattening up for the cold.
Cute mouth and paw action!!
A nice find, one of a pair of pied-billed grebes.
So cute in that afternoon sun!
Most of the N. Shovelers were in huge feeding groups, I love watching them swirl!
A drake shoveler looks pretty sweet in his breeding plumage. Winter is best time to catch ducks looking good. While song birds are not in breeding plumage, ducks are looking spiffy.
Canada Geese coming in for a landing, a funny, clumsy-looking landing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gannet Watch

     Today I went on a whale watch with Gotham Whale, via American Princess Cruises with a few of my friends and husband. With so many whale sightings in the last 2 weeks, I thought we might fare well. Thankfully the weather and water were on our sides, both tolerable.
     Unfortunately we saw no whales, but I did get my first sight of surf scoters (way far away) and many great views of Northern Gannets. And that's it, unfortunately in viewing wildlife, it's all a gamble (my favorite kind of gamble to take).
     Anyway, here are some okay shots of birds from the boat today...
A common loon
A flock of black scoters
A young Northern Gannet

A surprised young Northern Gannet, who wasn't expecting to swim from a boat.

Bickering gulls were common, we saw herring (one up top), ring-billed, greater black backed, laughing (one below) and Bonaparte's

It was also cool to see gulls hunting and succeeding!

A lovely adult N. Gannet makes a close pass to the boat.

Young N. Gannet
An adult gannet evades our vessel.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Always Scan Through Your Birds

     A good rule to helping you find that needle in a haystack of a bird is to scan through groups of birds, you never know who is tossed into the mix of "regulars."I was out with the family yesterday up in Nyack, NY where we went out to a park to get us outside and out of the house. We visited Memorial Park to get views of the Tappan-Zee Bridge, but parked in the marina lot across from the actual park.
     I left my bird stuff in the car, but had to run back and grab it as I was checking out a large group of ring-billed gulls perched on pilings and swimming in the water and one looked a tad bit larger and seemed to be lacking the usual markings of a ring-billed gull.
     With my binoculars, I could see that we had a "white-winged" gull on our hands, with a smaller bill and not much larger than the ring-billed (and comparison to photos in my birding apps that I have), I identified this bird as an Iceland Gull...
A first winter ring-billed gull up front, and two non-breeding adult ring-billed gulls in the back, but note how the one in the middle is a tad larger with no black markings on its feathers, that's the Iceland gull, in it's first year plumage.
It was very exciting to find and identify this bird on my own. Normally I have gone out to seek these birds after they are reported, but seeing this bird was a great reminder of why I enjoy birding. There is something very rewarding about finding and making an identification on your own with a bird you do not see super often.
It was also really fun to show this bird to my nieces who were with us. I think they had a lot of fun just peering through a pair of binoculars and seeing things close-up.
This bird came up to the shore in front of us for a little bit before going to join the flock of ring-billed gulls as the mobbed the folks ho dump bread off at the park.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

     Happy Thanksgiving!

     I'm thankful for a lot of things. I have a great family, wonderful friends, and the things that matter most - health, love, and happiness.
     I'm also thankful that I get time to do the things I love and share them with you... Here are some cute birds from last week in Prospect Park.

Hope your Thanksgiving is happy and safe!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Quick Break from the Kitchen...

     I volunteered to make a lot of food. I'm Italian, I can't help it, I take after my mother. I also have the day off so, I figured I could totally sneak in some time to see some birds. So after baking an apple pie and sweet potato casserole, and prepping antipasto, I figured I could bird before the roasted squash, my "turkey" cutlets (I don't eat turkey on Thanksgiving, so I make fake ones), and a pumpkin pie.
     I figured to keep it close to home, so I took the car (so that means I did not stick to that close to home thing at all) and went to Bush Terminal Park, as I haven't birded there much and it gets decent waterfowl in the winter and I also went to Bay Ridge, in the hopes of seeing some purple sandpipers, along the Belt Parkway.
     A good showing for some quick outdoor time, zero complaints about these sights...
All was quiet when I walked in to the park, a few Buffleheads and American Wigeon on the water, so I walked to path over past the fields and heard kestrel calls... Angry kestrel calls. The calls were due to the presence of this guy...
A Cooper's Hawk dodges the swoops of this female Kestrel. She was NOT happy that he was in her stomping grounds. And don't let her size fool you, swooping at high speeds with sharp talons and beak, can do a fellow bird in, causing injury.
I don't often get to see Cooper's out in the open, they are usually in trees up high, so this was a treat. Having the Kestrel and Coop in the area explains why I really saw nothing else in the small perching bird department.

I love getting the chance to watch the behaviors the birds exhibit, it's a special treat to see them do their natural thing. And I love watching a little badass like a kestrel hold its ground against a bird that seemed to be 3x's its size. It was also a privilege to observe a Cooper's hawk out in the open.
The Coop eventually flew off, and the female Kestrel settled on the fence of the ball fields, adjacent to where the Coop perched. She gave me some great views. She seems to be proud of her work. Good news for her is that the temps were warm today, I even heard crickets out, so there is some extra little things out for her to eat.
I love how tough she is, yet so delicate, as her feather wisp in the winds off of the harbor. I admire them so much, and they happen to be gorgeous raptors at that.
You can see, in comparison to a chain link, she is not a big bird, a pigeon has more heft to it than a kestrel. They are really amazing little falcons.
eBird flagged me for my report of lesser scaup, but um, here they are, among many bufflehead (middle bird). The best way to tell the difference between lesser and greater scaup are the shape of the head. These birds have a flatter head (the back of their head), while a greater scaup has a "fatter" rounder head shape. The one with the white spot next to its bill is a female scaup.
On my way out, I found the male kestrel. The kestrels are almost always present in this park, lots of open fields with larger grasses to harbor their foods they enjoy, from insects to rodents, to small sparrows.
I admire the male kestrels because they are a sexy raptor, he looks amazing! American Kestrels are easy to tell the sexes apart as they are dimorphic (appear different in color AND size).
In Bay Ridge, I managed to get my purple sandpipers, just two, who seemed to be basking in the sun, very inactive, resting.
Oh, hey! These birds spent a lot of time looking up, probably with an eye out for the resident Peregrine falcons who would surely try to make a snack out of these guys if they could get one.
Also a tough little nugget. These purple sandpipers migrate here, this is their South, as they nest in the far north, the Arctic. So, this is nothing for them, they have the Northernmost winter range of sandpipers, with a winter range of the NE US, into Southern Canada.
This might be my favorite picture I got today, how cool is this little bird that spends its winter on the rocks along NY Harbor, adjacent to the Belt Parkway?