Monday, March 23, 2020

Harbingers of Spring and Happiness

     Tim and I spent a full week working from home and thankfully we have plenty to do but still, my legs needed stretching and I feared the local parks. I heard about crowds making the park appear like a day in July versus March and that 6ft was not always easy to maintain.
     So I am only opting for remote locations or cemeteries to walk and maybe see a bird or two. Yesterday I hit Green-Wood Cemetery. There were far more people in there than usual but nothing out of control. Thankfully, their strict rules on what you can/can't do there in the cemetery keep the crowds away.
     While I was really hoping to lock eyes with a timberdoodle, instead I found other birds that made me smile just as much. It stinks that this spring may be a big miss in birding during migration, but for now, I'll just embrace what I can.
Spring brings robins down from the trees. They spent the winter foraging on winter berries on trees and in bushes, right here in NY. They shift their diet back to insects and worms as the ground warms and this food becomes available again. SO robins re not a sign of spring - but their diet change is a sign of spring.

A little ray of sunshine? Yes.. but no -- it's a Pine Warbler! The warbler that tells you: ALL THE OTHER WARBLERS WILL BE HERE SOON! 
This one tree was full of 6 or more pine warblers, and they were all so brilliant and bright.

Also, serious bonus bird- the bringer of happiness, an Eastern Bluebird! I have only seen them at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn so this was a very welcome surprise!

These birds are closely related to robins, they are in the Thrush family!

This bird, appears to be female, the males are more bright in their hues.

She is beautiful none the less.

Also, tulip trees with the past remains of their flowers make for really great scenery.

The pine warblers were not socially distant, they would get really close as they foraged along the branches.

Hoe perfect are these little golden floofs?!

I have a feeling I'm being observed just as much as I'm observing them!

But I am far less interesting than potential food.
Despite being more chilly than I'd enjoy, the insects were still flying and the birds were busy hunting them.

Was delighted to see one of the whistle pigs enjoying some snacks.

For the whole winter there was one Eastern Phoebe, the there were two for some time. Then today they were everywhere, those two survivors are now among a crowd and impossible to pick out.

I don't care if there were hundreds of them around, I like them and their funny wheezy song.

A very floofy song sparrow, there were also quite a number of these birds out too. It gives a nice chance to see the large amount of variation in their hue. Some very bold, some more softer and faded. Song sparrows can vary quite a bit in their appearance.

One of the many resident mockingbirds, and yes, they are 100% judging us all.
I fear that I may not be able to do a whole lot of birding, just looking out for my health and the health of others. I hope spring bring some good visitors to our yard. We had a singing wood thrush for a number of days frequenting the yards behind and adjacent to ours, so I'll just hope for moments like that to occur.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A week+ of birds.

    I'm anxious, I'm pregnant, I have a chronic cough (it's not the virus) that I just can't shake, there is a pandemic - so how do I escape? Birds. Here are birds. Migration is just starting, nothing is stopping nature from doing its things, I can feel somewhat relieved to be outside and not among the havoc (have you walked into a grocery just to do your regular shopping?! Ugh, what an awful mess).

And now. Birbs.

Friday, 3/16, Green-Wood Cemetery:
I really wanted to see a fox sparrow (and a woodcock), and I got a fox sparrow.
Trying to keep the year list growing as much as I can.
Each outing this week I added another year bird, today was fox sparrow.
I love these chonkers.

A male belted kingfisher in its usual spot on the Crescent Water, making all the noise.

A close (and cropped) white-throated sparrow. I saw some chipping sparrows too, but got no photos.

Monday, 3/9, Floyd Bennett Field:
Today's year bird to add on was wood ducks. There were many to be had. The Return-a-Gift pond was full of them. Actively calling and puffing up their heads, many males with two females.

They make a funny upward nasal whistle call. The averge human being probably expects ducks to quack, a-la mallard, but ducks make some funky noises depending on the species.

Wednesday, 3/11, Marine Park Salt Marsh:
I had a late start to my work so I walked at the Salt Marsh Nature center. This downy woodpecker was soaking up the sun.

Everyone was singing - and among the cardinals, the males were scuffling a bit too.

A song sparrow singing its song.

I love how they jump up onto a high branch to belt it out. It is one of my favorite signs of spring.

Another sign of spring, are the "ONK-a-REEE's" of the red-winged blackbird.

Three killdeer gathered on the field. The field was devoid of the trees that were sprouting taller each season so they are back to grassland.
Year birds added today were swamp sparrow and black-capped chickadee, a bird I've been seeing less and less each winter.
Friday, 3/13, Green-Wood Cemetery:
An Eastern Phoebe on the Sylvan water, a second bird remained all winter on the Dell water.
I love these little birds. We will see more as spring progresses!

I was on Battle Hill, the highest point in Brooklyn and was surprised to be so close to a black vulture, that was traveling with a second bird just overhead.
Todays year bird was fish crow.
Saturday, 3/14, Prospect Park:
There are far less American Coot out in the park, I'll miss these goth babies.

Speaking of goth, I was really hoping to run into a rusty blackbird.... and I did! This is today's year bird!

I also love looking at the face on, because...



This bird's population has declined steeply since the 1960's habitat loss has likely been a contributing factor toward this.

I really like these birds, I hope we can keep them around.

One sleepy downy woodpecker before calling it a morning.
Birds are great :)

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Short-eared Owls

     Yesterday, I made my annual trek to Shawangunk National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the short-eared owls. As it is getting late in the season, this was a good day to get a chance to see them. It's about a 2 hours trek from Brooklyn so I broke up the trip with a pitstop at my amazing friends' pasta shop, DPNB Pasta & Provisions in Nyack for a late lunch and to pick up additional carbohydrates for dinner.
     In my arrival to Shawangunk I really lucked out. One SEOW gave myself and a few other some amazing and long views of it at fairly close range. It chose its perches, one progressively closer than the other. Which means I ended up with 600+ photos of one bird, in more of less the same pose. With each photo I'll share some random factoids about SEOW's and the grassland habitats they thrive in.
I arrived and was headed for the trail when another birder pointed and said "it's right there!"
It was not there 5 seconds ago!
A short-eared owl popped out onto a pole, directly in front of the parking area, a relatively short distance away.

The bird sat for a good while and then flew, to an even closer perch, still within range of the parking area. All observers remained in the parking area and gave the bird space.

It sat low, as Northern Harriers were still on the day shift, scouring the fields for voles and other rodents.
These grasslands are such important habitat for birds of prey like the harriers and owls and a myriad of smaller birds; in the summer this habitat is home to grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, and bobolinks. And those are just some of the birds.
Many other animals also call these grasslands home.

Grasslands are an important habitat and one that is harder and harder to find. The short-eared owls are considered endangered in New York State and grasslands like these provide crucial winter habitat for these birds.
Short-eared owls, living in grasslands, even nest on the ground. Even here in the grasslands, with no snow on the ground, many of them remain hidden in the grasses by day and begin flight at dusk.

The more open, the better. These owls are sensitive to changes in habitat and like other grassland birds, the less trees and shrubs the even better the habitat is!

As the sun gets low in the sky other animals take to the fields, like these white-tailed deer.

Nest boxes are available around the refuge grounds for songbirds during the spring and summer that nest here, like eastern bluebirds.
Also important to mention, all these owl photos are taken at a distance using a 500mm lens, of which then, the photo are cropped, quite heavily at times. This photo gives you some idea of the bird being given space to hang out and lay low until it is ready to begin its hunting.

Not so often seen, the "ears" of the short-eared owl - which are just small feather tufts.
The actual ears of this bird are located within their facial disk, which acts to amplify and funnel sound into their asymmetrically placed ears that allows them to hunt their food based on sound.

We had some good light as the sun began to fade, so sorry, not sorry for this opportunity to take as many photos as possible...

I can't put on makeup to save my life, but these owls have the most perfect smokey eyes...

There are many subspecies of short-eared owl as they are found nearly world-wide. They even reside on islands like Hawaii and the Galapagos.
While these birds winter here and in places south into Mexico, they breed North into Canada and Alaska. They range far and wide!
Eventually, as many of the birders and photographers had their fill, this bird began preparing for its flight and hunting over the grasses. It took to the air and flew to a new perch, further away.
Also, another thing I love about these owls: feathered legs and feet!

It seemed to gather itself, shake out its feathers and then took off on those long, beautiful wings. At least two other owls joined this bird, at one point even clashing in their air and calling loudly.

Flying silently as owls do, they flutter low over the grasses looking and even more so listening. When they are onto something they will hover and suddenly dive into the grasses. If you're lucky you'll see them come up with something in their talons.
This was the easiest, least strenuous outing I have yet to have at Shawangunk, it almost felt too easy.
I'm not complaining.