Sunday, February 7, 2016

Superb Owl Sunday

     With not a whole lot of time on my hands this weekend, I don't have much to share- but I couldn't pass up a fun post about owls on Superb Owl Sunday! When it comes to birds, raptors steal my heart. I think I got hooked on talons in my first job out of college with Audubon, where I handled raptors, going to schools on outreach teaching about these animals, local ecology, and the issues these and other animals face. The birds we had there were rescued, non-releaseable wildlife, many boating a slew of injuries that prevented them from living in the wild. 
     The owls did not let their injuries and shortcomings keep them down, one Great Horned in particular scared the (insert expletive here) out of me, every time, flying at you, talons bared. It didn't stop me from loving and respecting these amazing predators.
     So for today, We showcase owls from past posts and, some good old memories:

This is a (very) young me and Gladys, at the time, 32 years old. She has passed on in old age, but she was a Great Horned Owl that survived a raccoon attack when she was young. She had only her left wing. When handling GHO's, with even the toughest of gloves, you could still feel the pressure of those talons- which can squeeze at over 300 pounds per square inch. Basically making them top predator as they can eat skunks, porcupine, turkey, things far larger than themselves.
Kirk our barred owl was one of many owls with trauma, many owls get struck by cars, especially when hunting as they swoop down low to nab rodents and small prey on the ground. Unfortunately roads are a huge obstacle for these birds. Barred owls are my favorite bird call, I hope one day I get to hear or see one in the wild!
The first wild great horned owl I had ever seen was in Central Park in Manhattan.
In 2015, I also saw my very first wild screech owl- and a red phase bird at that! 
A Brooklyn Snowy owl from last year-- like the winter before this one, last year.
Going home and visiting the beach is my favorite for finding snowies-- These too are from last winter--

And last year there were quite a few Snowies, even on the same beach!
They look so fabulous on those dunes!
One thing that is super uper important to remember-- and I cannot stress this enough. Do not approach these birds closely. If you have your iphone and are dying for a photo, you should have come prepared. It irks me to witness and know people attempt to approach these animals for a "good shot." Keep your distance, be prepared (bring binoculars and a camera with zoom/long lens), and be respectful.
This bird is my fave, he got the blog started. My husband and I got to observe this guy with the sun fading in the sky. He was super beautiful and it was a very cool moment to share with Tim.
Happy Superb Owl Sunday!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Coney Island Winter Wonderland

     Many people think Coney Island goes into hibernation during the winter, maybe for one species of animal, Homo sapiens, it does -- unless you're a burly Brighton Beach man topless and in shorts on a jog. Aside from very much spotting a shirtless, short-wearing, burly man on an afternoon jog-- much wildlife also abounds along the sand and beyond into and over the water of the Atlantic Ocean. Coney Island is beautiful after a fresh winter snow and during lunch I was able to convince my awesome coworkers to skip in the snow, frolic on the shoreline, and explore the beach in front of the Aquarium.
     I love Coney in the snow, I hope you do too, enjoy!
This morning looked very much like a bleak and barren boardwalk in Nome Alaska...
Can you even see the ocean?!
But by noon, the weather turned bright, cheerful, and far more inviting-- it's amazing what a little sun shine can do!
OH! There's the ocean!
The quietest version of Coney Island you'll ever know.
A gull washes in the surf- this is a herring gull. I couldn't even imagine getting into the water.
The beach was mostly teeming with herring and ring-billed gulls. A few great black-backed gulls were around and off shore, I spotted at least 3 Northern Gannets.
A group of ring billed gulls - the guy up front looks to be ready for a post-lunch nap.
"Don't eat the yellow snow!"
The gulls on the beach were eating snow, because unlike the ocean water, the snow is a great source of fresh water. So many gulls were picking it up and eating it, like this herring gull.
A red throated loon came close to shore, maybe to see what the 6 loons from the NY aquarium were doing out on the beach in such weather.
A juvenile herring gull.
And yay! We found 5 skate egg cases on the beach just outside the aquarium, plus a few fragments from other. We also found some washed up soft corals, HUGE moon snails, razor clams, various crab carapaces, lots of good stuff!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Glaucous Goal

     I achieved what I was seeking yesterday, the Glaucous Gull was at the Army Terminal pier, mostly on the water. When it took flight, it would make several passes over the pier, which allowed for some photo opportunities. The bird is stunning, white, standing out well among the many ring-billed gulls that dominate the area in number.
     Glaucous gulls and a few other species, like the Iceland gull (a few are in the local area too!), are referred to as white-winged gulls. Unlike the gulls we are most familiar with, like ring-billed and herring, the glaucous lacks the black wing tips like what we are most used to here.
     These white-winged gulls are uncommon winter visitors to the area. Yet, it is not odd that they are here, and immature birds tend to be the ones who show up. The bird at the Army Terminal Pier is an immature bird, it's plumage best matches up to a second winter bird and is larger than the ring-billed gulls that tend to surround him. I watched him until he flew into a secluded cove and went out of view.
Enjoy the few okay shots I were able to grab:

A ring-billed gull for comparison... note those black wingtips, absent on all the photos of the glaucous above.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls!

     Today I explored with one of my fantastic birding coworkers the Brooklyn Army Terminal Pier, which is a pier that extends out into the New York Harbor from 58th Street. It was our hope to see a glaucous gull seen there yesterday.
     Upon walking out to the pier, in my head, all I did was sing Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls" but replaced girls with gulls. The place was littered with gulls, mainly ring-billed, a few herring gulls, and no glaucous.
     But gulls are really fun to photograph because they are not shy, they are very charismatic, and exhibit all kinds of behaviors that are super fun to capture. As long as you aren't afraid of an Alfred Hitchcock "Birds" scenario, with gulls hovering closely with zero care to your proximity, they are super fun to be around. Especially when other folks show up with an entire pizza pie on the pier, thinking they are about to enjoy a pizza while serenely watching the skyline across the water...
NYSeaGull. A ring-billed gull with a hell of a view.

I can't pass up a moment to amuse myself with anthropomorphizing this very H&M-esque pose by this ring-billed gull who in reality just landed and is folding up its wing.

A rowdy, juvenile ring-billed vocalizes as it lands, closer to the pizza prize. 
A first summer bird, adults will have yellow eyes... compare to the flying gull above and below.
An adult with yellow eyes, the red skin around the eyes will be bright and pronounced as they transition their winter plumage for breeding.

Hovering over the pizza eaters with a the once bustling industrial parts of Brooklyn behind them.

While we didn't get to see the gull we came for, it was fun to explore a new place and photo some characters on the pier. All in all a great trip!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snow Birds

     We had been cooped up for 24 hours, our apartment is throughly cleaned, animal enclosures spruced up, upcoming vacation mostly planned, and cabin fever running high. As soon as we woke up we walked to the empty grocery store, using a car after 24 inches of snow fell in 24 hours was not at the top of our list, so toting our goods home was our only option. After a yummy breakfast my husband and I got out for a walk to Prospect Park, around the lake and then homeward.
     We met when we attended SUNY Oswego for our undergrad, and our first date, that wasn't a frat party, was a trek through the snow at Rice Creek Field Station. So snowy walks with my husband are something I very much enjoy, and today was no different. I oddly still use the same winter coat, snow pants, and a hat he gave me for Christmas many years ago- all of which I used when we were in Oswego together. So today, I put down the binoculars and just picked up the camera, we trekked around, ran through snow drifts, and enjoyed the snowy scenes Prospect had to offer in the aftermath of this winter storm.
Enjoy the sights!
A few open water areas on the lake offer freshwater to gulls, geese, swans, ducks, and coots. 
I LOVE when I get to spy some lobed American coot feet! The coots were my favorites today.
A few icy droplets cling to the backs of the mute swans while the dip their long necks below the surface looking for any plants and algae growing underneath.
Those unique and adorable lobed feet not only are great for strolling around on land but great for swimming too!
In winter it is especially tempting to want to feed the birds, by all means necessary, avoid bread. Frozen veggies, seed, and cut up grapes are better choices if you must, but also remember to give the wildlife respect and distance. Feeding wildlife is very taboo as it has its pros, but also cons too.
Here is some more information on feeding birds: 
It's hard not to anthropomorphize, I love this face! But in reality, I am hoping this little coot gets the proper nutrition he needs to survive the winter!

The feeders of course were fairly active with the regulars, N. cardinals, American goldfinch, house sparrow, white-throated sparrow, red-wing blackbird, white breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, mourning dove, titmice, and surprisingly no chickadee!
A little American goldfinch takes advantage of the empty feeder closest to us

We walked to the Lakeside center and found only this Northern Mockingbird in the area that overlooks the hockey rink.
Looking back toward Lookout Hill.
Oh, and I LOVE pigeons, so I was excited to get a nice headshot of this guy as we walked home along Fort Hamilton Parkway.