Sunday, May 19, 2019

Brooklyn & Queens Birbs

     Well, it's been 4 days of ups and downs. It began with a burrowing owl, then being with some friends, then it was my bike getting stolen, buying a new bike (ugh, $$$$$$), attaining another life bird, and then coming home from a lovely evening with friends to find out our cat broke out of our home (don't worry, Keith is back!). Holy frijoles, Batman. And all that happened in under a weeks time.
     So at least here are more of the good parts... and let's hope the week ahead is balanced.
I walked in the morning Friday early, with my friend, Molly and then met my friend Shannon in Prospect Park. I got to show Shannon the Vale of Cashmere and the Rose Garden, she had never been there!
We enjoyed this red-bellied woodpecker that landed right at eye-level.

Does anyone else LOVE duck cheeks?

Shannon told me about how her parents had duck decoys and specifically wood duck decoys, in their home as decor. Birds are memorable like that. I was so happy to share the morning with friends, and then finding that my locked bike (helmet and lock) were just taken, in Prospect Park.
Huge Bummer. Worse things could happen, but we did spend 10 solid years together and I may have grown to love that bike in particular.

So, Saturday morning I put off birding to get a new bike. I'm truly glad birding is a very low-cost hobby that brings me a ton of joy.
But then, because my husband is just the best, he agreed to a stop on our way up to Rockland County at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
We were on the lookout for another (like the burrowing owl) rare visitor, a sage thrasher. We did see it, but then it was flushed. Then Tim spotted it as it reappeared. I got this amazing photo of it.

Discovered by a Queens Birder, this is the first one here since 1973!
Normally this bird is a denizen of the sagebrush plains in the west.

In the same family as mockingbirds, catbirds, and other thrashers, it very much resembles a mockingbird or brown thrasher.

It also makes funny faces.

It almost was behaving like it was coughing something up. But nothing came up.

What a lovely chance to see this bird and observe it for a little while. Two western birds in in the east over a span of 4 days days, for myself? I'll take it!

That speckled chest is just so lovely!

I wonder if it enjoyed the novelty of a tree, as they tend to prefer places where it is very brushy and not very dense with trees. They forage on the ground for insects but also fruits/berries.

What a special thing to see, glad my husband and I got to spot it together. Another one for the life list!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Small Owl in the Big City

     I love birding. That is zero surprise to anyone who knows me, well or as an acquaintance. There is something about birding that keeps me active and returning to the same park, beach, and even specific trees time and time again. Some would think this is a sickness, but truly it's the thrill of seeing these magnificent feathered things high in the trees, fresh in from lands so far away, here because they, every trip ,need that same tree, beach or park time and time again.
     Being out among birds helps me feel connected to the natural world. It lets me escape the day-to-day. When I think I have it bad, I'm not the one who flew hundreds or thousands of miles in all kind of conditions, fleeing predators, avoiding obstacles, I marvel at those feats and admire birds greatly.
     There is also this sense of discovery. Sometimes birds take a wrong turn, literally get blown off course. Sometimes a brazen individual flies a bit further than the rest. Sometimes another gets caught up in a flock and stays with them for the long haul and passes their stop. Who truly knows what, but sometimes a bird ends up in a place it usually isn't, and seeing those birds is outright THRILLING. That happened to me yesterday, but it also put me in an odd position mentally and ethically.
     I always volunteer to assist with the Horseshoe crab monitoring through NYC Audubon, I look forward to it. What a special way to be involved in science and contribute to the work this amazing organization is doing. I like to always monitor at a few spots because they can differ so greatly, last night I was signed up for Big Egg Marsh. After a stop at New Park Pizza (the best Pizza, btw.) and some light birding at Jamaica Bay with my friend and colleague, we were honestly stoked to have found a secretive and skulky black-billed cuckoo and have some nice photo ops of a house wren, belting out its song.

     Trying to not be late to our assignment, we got down to the marsh in time. I noticed there was some construction, the parking lot was much smaller. Even when I am not birding, I keep an eye out for things. So I looked twice when I saw a round, compact, but hefty bird on long legs perched atop one of the fence posts. The shape was one I knew, from books and documentaries...
     It wasn't looking at me. But, could it be?? Then, with a quick, smooth turn of its head, me in my car and it barely more than 11 feet away, it kept that cool, smug look that burrowing owls have, while I made quite possibly the dumbest face ever known to human kind. With my iPhone, I could grab a clear shot that would very much confirm this as what I knew it to be.
IT IS A (insert an elated word of choice -- mine are not appropriate for the internet) BURROWING (insert more elated words here) OWL!
...Just to put into context how this then goes. I know where burrowing owls live, I was planning to see some when I visit COLORADO this summer. I also know they live in some areas of Florida. They are reliant on other burrowing creatures, for which they are tenants, especially for nesting. Usually those burrow hosts are Gopher tortoises, Prairie Dogs, or other Ground Squirrels. So, doing the math in my head, this bird did not compute.

     So, rewind a few years, a bird that reignited my love of looking for birds was a swallow-tailed kite, I spotted in Prospect Park. That very similar math flowed through my head, I knew that had to be something special. But I wasn't aware of the birding community and just how immense it was. I know folks were upset that I didn't share it to a list-serv (I didn't know there was one!) or eBird (what's an eBird?!). I didn't know this procedure, so I did not truly spread the word.

     To say the least, I learned a lot. And since then, I only learned much more. So knowing how special this owl was I knew I had to share. And I did. But then another thought crept into my head as the excitement began to wear. That thing about birding ethics, and not sharing the locations of owls, and treating them as a sensitive species.

Start pumping the breaks.

     Of course, as I remembered that, I already went insane posting a picture on twitter. Birders are like turkey vultures, they can find what they need under that dense canopy of leaves and they are ON IT. And already folks had found out, even with deleting what I had put into the world, it was too late. Now I'm bugging out in the nervous wreck of a way.
     I felt pretty crappy. I had done wrong. I had done something that I advise others not to do. I thought I would lose respect in this (sometimes) very close-knit world, I was ready and bracing for a stoning, and especially as a female birder, I felt pretty vulnerable.
     Talk about feeling ALL the feelings, from excitement to absolute crap.

     In the end, I breathed. I spoke to some people, male birders, female birders - they reassured me that if they were in my position, they probably would have done all the same things. And that in the end, people will, no doubt go and try to find this bird, now that the cat was out of the bag. Also, being such a rarity in our area, people would want to know.
     I was only reassured and supported by people in the birding community and that was really nice. It was very much heartening to experience that and for those who may have chatted with me or communicated with me, thank you. It's nice to know there are some really good, helpful folks out there.

     I woke up today to only learn the bird was not re-found - but oddly, a sage thrasher in nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The owl perhaps realized where the heck it was and turned back to from where it came, truly, who knows. Knowing that it has moved on, I feel alright sharing some photos I captured. I'm stoked to have discovered such a bird, here, within New York City.
     And when it comes down to it, this is part of the joy in birding and what keeps me going out there. Finding something special, being so lucky to just be in the right place at the right time at the same time as this tiny little owl. These moments are beyond special, I am so excited I got to share it with my friend who happened to be with me and a few others who were tagging crabs. A few folks did get out to re-find it and I'm glad they got to see it too.
    For me, this was another moment to learn and be thoughtful about this little creature whose presence brought me a ridiculous amount of thrill and joy and the appropriate means to getting the word out, without causing this animal undue stress.
    And bonus, it was a very fruitful night for horseshoe crabs. We tagged 50 individuals and even got a few in our quadrat samples that we took!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

For all the moms out there... And mine too!

     Take some time today to wish a mom a happy mother's day. It can be your mom, a mother-figure in your life, someone you know who is a mom, so this one is for all the moms out there with a special shout to to my one and only!
Clapper rail with the kiddos in tow...
Common tern watching its very graceful chick stomp off with a snack it provided...
Mama wood duck keeping it together with the whole gang of ducklings...
Mama great horned owl knows best...

She might have killer talons but even mama owl has a softer side, for her future top predators.

     I thank my mom for teaching me strength, independence, to give it your all, how to succeed, share kindness, nurture others, and do it all with grace and poise (although, I question my poise...). My mom also has been 100% accepting of my love of animals and never, ever forced those norms of society on me, for which I thank her for letting me be who I am; digging up insects and making habitats for snails and fireflies helped me become who I am today. She beat the hell out of cancer while nurturing her immediate and extended family, and always held her head high through some of the hardest points in her life. My mom is my #1.
     My mom has even been tracking a bird in her life, a killdeer she named, "Birdda." Here are some of her adventures with Birdda:
Here is Birdda.
My mom called me at work and was concerned for her nest, located at her workplace parking lot. I shared how this bird and her nest is protected by federal law. She was worried about people and their pets who frequent the area.
I informed her that the best she can do is to rope off the area and keep folks out. 
She recruited workers at her job to rope off the nest.
How amazing is my mom?
She shared with me compassion for others and I am so glad to see her share that compassion with wildlife.
She updates me about Birdda, who has been doing well for the last almost 2 weeks.
I also got the chance to share with my mom how birds nest in all places from your typical sticks in a tree to a scrape on the ground. I also shared with her how birds like this don't really eat seeds or bread (ever), as she has wanted to provide her food and I shared how she will feed on insects.
My mom has asked so many great questions and is assured she is finding worms to eat.
But of course, my mom can't not provide or do something to help. So she has informed me that she has left out for Birdda a source of fresh water.
How cute is my mom?!
This is my mom's latest picture of Birdda.
She sent it yesterday.
She always checks in on her and I sure hope she is rewarded with seeing Birdda's family.
She may have anthropomorphized Birdda a little bit, but honestly, I love the connection she has to this little wild bird and how much she cares about her and her family.
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers and mother figures out there, thanks for being you and sharing your best selves with those around you!

Friday, May 10, 2019

This Week in South Brooklyn

     Earlier this week I birded before work, I birded after work, and today, late in the morning in either the Salt Marsh at Marine Park or at Floyd Bennett Field.
     In all my outings I have noted that there are a ton of yellow warblers, house wrens, Carolina wrens, and a good showing, seeing at least one white-eyed vireo on each outing! The birds have been showing up and doing their thing as their settle in or fuel up and keep the journey moving. Spring is such an exciting time but there is so much FOMO when I am at work so it is always a treat to get out and take in the scenery.

Happy to see this face as I entered the Salt Marsh in the morning before work. Yellow crowned night herons always look sharp. Like they are too cool for school, and are always in style.
I was never a yellow crowned night heron, and I doubt I ever will be.

While I didn't see a heck of a lot that morning, I did see and become very familiar with the white-eyed vireo's song as I stumbled upon two of them. I also got my first magnolia warbler of the year, and checked in on the osprey family.
On my way out I said hello, and goodbye to this greater yellowlegs and headed off towards work.

After work on Wednesday I went back to the salt marsh, but wanted to take some time to explore the other side of the marsh, where there is more shrub and tree growth, which I thought could be good for warblers.

Oh yeah, there were also a lot of these guys (and gals, too) everywhere, common yellowthroats. Or as I like to call them, batman birds.

Love seeing a garden snail, or banded snail, as is their common name. Also it is common to find that they are not always banded.
I love catbirds.
A lot.
I love their personality. They can sing a sweet melody, turn on the attitude as needed, they will find you before you find them, and they make meows!
This one is not meowing or singing... it's gulping down a berry.

The female common yellow throats have this glowing presence. I love seeing them just as much as I enjoy seeing tehir batman counterpart.

The yellow warblers were out in force, singing their "sweet sweet I'm so sweet!" song. And looking so good aganst a blue sky and tender new leaves. 
An American Lady Butterfly. I am looking forward to seeing more and more pollinators as the weather warms up!
Almost walked into this yellow-crowned night heron on my way out of the salt marsh.

Today at Floyd Bennett Field, I got all the feels.
I experienced happiness, sadness, and anger.
This little round friend brought me sadness after I got a better look at him...

Birds are freakin' tough. They can mask it all until they are on their deathbed.
This little ruby-crowned kinglet is missing a chunk of it's face, or has its face smashed in a bit.
It was a little slow. I even (I admit) tried to see how close I could get, because if I could capture it, I would have sought out a rehabber. But it still knew to get away from me, but I know something faster will put an end to it's time in this world. 

I can't even imagine how this little fella got this way.

But, gosh, he is one tough nugget.

This bird made me so happy.

For a solid 7 seconds this bird came out, sat 10 feet away from me and belted out in song before another two individuals of its kind chased it off.
The white-eyed vireo is a damn cool bird.

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What in the world did I do to deserve this special moment?!

And then in the blink of an eye, he was off, continuing his song, being chased and giving chase to the other birds.
 And then, this. This hurt my heart, and made me angry....

I watched this bird swoop down to the fields, grab the bag and fly off with it. Osprey are notorious for using trash in their nests.


We can do better. We need to do better.
Single use plastics suck.

Saw a different bird with proper nest material, flying off in a different direction.

Remember that tomorrow is migratory bird day and the Birdathon! Please consider supporting our Feminist Bird Club team: The Rowdy Turnstones.
We are using all the fund to help the Brooklyn Bird Club adopt some space in the Choco in Columbia that benefits our migratory birds!