Monday, November 20, 2017

Prospect Rarities

     Haven't posted in a while. Spent two weekends ago with my husband, and some birding in between as we celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. Then last week I came down hard with a stomach virus, it sucked, 100%. Yesterday I finally felt well enough for walking and going out to find the Common Gallinule that has been hanging around at Prospect Park since last week. A few other bonuses also showed up too...
From across the way... I noticed a goose that was not like the others...

I present, a cackling goose!

With its wings looking almost too long for its body, smaller size, and wedge-shaped, small bill, this is a separate species from the Canada geese.

The one furthest back is definitely a cackling-- I question the one right in front of it.

Oh yeah... I was looking for that gallinule- the cackling was a little distraction. But then, distracted again- this great blue heron was on a mission...

While hordes of people skated just 100 yards away, this great blue heron found lunch. And no one but me watched it al go down.

A tasty frog that it even dipped, gently in the water to get it nice and wet so it could easily swallow it down.

Then a gust of wind came and even knocked this bird off-balance.

It was a great afternoon though, to photo pied billed grebes. These funny little birds are often shy, but today they were busy hunting in the tangles of the now dying lilies.

Also, lots of plump ruddy ducks, close to shore doing the same as the grebes.

Looking like a baby dinosaur...

Swimming through reflecting autumn colors.

And now for sub-par photos of the common gallinule. Not a year bird for me, but a county bird, for sure! 

My coworker and friend found it last Sunday, and I am so glad it stuck around!
While a bird like this could be in NYC, as it is within its range, we just don't have a lot of its preferred habitat. In places upstate, even into Canada, these birds are not rare occurrences as the summer and breeding range extends north of here. I did see these birds last winter in Florida at Merritt National Wildlife Refuge, in large abundance.

This is very much a juvenile bird and a fun one to tack on to your Kings County list, if it isn't there already!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

1 Year - Feminist Bird Club!

     Yesterday we celebrated the 1 year anniversary of the Feminist Bird Club, founded by the amazing, Molly Adams! A sizeable group of us went on a late-day bird walk in Prospect Park and celebrated with drinks at a local pub that helped by donating a portion of sales to Circle of Health, a non-profit providing emergency health services to natural disaster and crisis victims -- and currently assisting with relief in Puerto Rico.
     On our walk, we saw some pretty cool things including an AMAZING close encounter with a young red-tail hawk consuming (and butchering) a rat. I got some great pictures BUT I WARN YOU BEFORE YOU BEGIN SCROLLING - photos that follow are things that happen in nature, you will see a rat being pulled apart to be eaten by a natural predator, a red-tail hawk. Some may find such photos graphic. I do not consider them so, as I see this as a part of the natural ecosystem and local food web - so please scroll at your own discretion!
     We had an amazing walk and a really great time- I look forward to future walks and accomplishments by the club! For more info on future walks, etc-- check 'em out here:
     Enjoy some of the sights (again, at your own discretion!)...
We began our walk by heading along the lake to LeFrak -- treated to many of the locals- including American Coots (above), Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Duck, and Canada Geese.

A Canada x Domestic hybrid

This is a local bird- seen this guy here in Prospect and at Green-Wood.

On the green roof we saw the local mockingbirds and many yellow-rumped warblers, foraging for insects that still remain into early November.

And then we ventured toward the Lullwater, where this immature Red-tail hawk greeted us as it ate its rat-- among spectators and did it not give a care!

This bird- beautifully pale, doing a very important job, being an active member of the local food web. Birds of prey are the best form of rodent control. Better than cats, any day. 

Of course, my #1 worry is hawks eating rats that have been exposed to poison. Toxins from prey bioaccumulates in top predators and can result in their death. Please, when considering rodent control, don't choose poison!

That amazing hooked beak- a perfect tool for portioning out bite size bits.

I really love this shot-- and really got a kick out of watching this bird do what comes naturally.

And those talons... the perfect killing tool!

This was a super huge treat, to be allowed into this animals world and be able to observe its role as a top predator in this urban park! This was the top part of the walk for me-- and I am super happy that we had such a great time out-- all for good cause and all for women in birding!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Timberdoodle Town!

     With still another bird walk planned for today, I went out this morning AND SO GLAD I DID. It was the best woodcock count I have ever had - 24 timberdoodles in Green-Wood Cemetery and all congregated in one area of the grounds.
     These are really rewarding birds to see, for me at least; reasons being their cryptic colors make them VERY hard to find, they colors are beautiful, they are so secretive- it's a privilege to observe them. It was hard to walk without flushing birds- being so hard to see, I often did not see the 4 of them somehow sitting less than 3 feet in front of me.
     I also had a nice observation of a sharp-shinned hawk thanks to some loud-mouth blue jays. a nice look at a late blue-headed vireo, and hermit thrushes by the bushel....
This sharpie found a roost in a large shrub. I think it seemed okay with my presence because I minded my distance and in being nearby, scared the jays away that led me to this bird.

While this bird looks big-- it honestly is just a tad bigger than the jays that were pestering it.

Very nice to see a bird in its gorgeous adult plumage-- carry on, little sharpie!

Then in looking up from the sharp-shinned I saw a Coop fly by and 2 red-tail hawks soaring overhead.

The dell water was active with small birds. While the temperatures have cooled- insects were active in sunny spots and the beehives are still in action. Some yellow-rumped warblers were cheating, nabbing bees.
I also spotted a blue-headed vireo, also be the bees- it's late for such a bird, but probably getting an advantage from having the bees to feed on.

By the Dell Water I also saw 3 winter wren. This one in particular was really fun as this ping-pong ball-sized bird smashed a caterpillar to death so it could consume it. Clearly, it is embracing its inner T-rex.

So vicious... but oh so adorable.

Their little stub of a tail is always held up so proudly. It's a funny little tail, but I suppose it does what it needs!

After one meal, it's on to find another. The maple leaves dwarf this bird!

Adorable, I love getting little intimate moments like these with little birds.

And then, the grand prize-- a few woodcocks that I was able to spot and not scare away (because I could actually see them and give them space!).

Seriously, evolution, you outdid yourself. And with the autumn leaves-- this is a real treat-- a challenging treat that makes this reward even sweeter.
Can you find??

With eyes placed high and toward the back of the head- this is the ultimate mom-- with eyes on the back of its head. But that placement isn't for misbehaving chicks-- but to have an eye out for danger as you rest, forage, and live on the ground. Danger comes from above and behind-- again, evolution, really-- this is all so impressive.

The one thing evolution did not prepare these birds for is the fact that humans built and light things unnaturally. Birds get confused, and woodcocks are notorious for building collisions that more often than not result in injury and death.

I walked over a hill and we both startled each other. Nothing I could do to not spook this bird further. So we stood and had a stare down -- the soil on its beak is evidence that this bird was foraging. On the hunt for earthworms and grubs below the surface. These are shorebirds that took to land and probe their long bills into soil instead of sand.

In attempting to back away this guy flew off, and I unintentionally flushed another that was unseen nearby. These birds may take flight tonight, as they are night time migrators, in their migration southward.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

While everyone else was out chasing a greenshank...

     I was contemplating going to see the Greenshank in NJ yesterday, but driving solo for a long ride, I was so not into it. So I said, screw it, and went in the opposite direction to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge instead. And honestly, I'm glad I did, I saw the photos of the traffic jams, everyone clambering to see one bird. The reason I enjoy birding is the solitude, and to get away from the big crowds.
     While there were quite a few birders out plus a giant camera/photo group, it was totally not crowded. I enjoyed seeing 50 species that I found with just my own pair of eyes and enjoyed both East and West Ponds. I was happy that East pond is still accessible to walk around, and my boots came in handy for that.
The pond has transitioned from shorebirds to ducks. In this photos, you get the impression of what its like, picking through he HUNDREDS of birds flating around. How many species can you find? Can you see the American wigeon, ruddy ducks, gadwall, N. shoveler, Canada geese, great blue heron, Green-wing teal?

The pond was inundated with Gadwall, but pick through and you can be rewarded-- standout group of male wood ducks and in the upper right, a male green-wing teal with its cinnamon head slashed with iridescent green.

Had a pair of swamp sparrows lead me through the phragmites trail to the mud flats.

A group of pectoral sandpipers still held on to the area, feeding and resting among the 6 birds in the group.

With the fall phrags and the blue sky and water, even the Canada geese are worth taking a longer look than usual at. As I admired this group, I noticed waves of waterfowl and cormorants taking flight. What's happening? Who is here? Why is everyone getting frantic?

That'll do it.

This gorgeous, mature bald eagle flew low, juuuust above the trees making every bird on the pond take flight. Almost like he was just enjoying the ability to have such power to make these other animals act in such ways.

A group of sandpipers flies of in the distance. I suck at ID in flight- so I have no idea what they are. But seeing this eagle was a real treat- so low, so close - I have never seen a bald eagle at the refuge, and a mature one is a treat! I have seen eagles in the NYC area, this would be my second time in Queens.

Look for that white crescent and long bill on that face and you've got yourself some blue-winged teal!

Always present on the pond, the non-native mute swans. I will admit, I enjoy watching them fly. Take off require such effort- and with every flap you hear the sounds that accompany each beat of the wing. It is impressive, still, every time.

I also enjoy watching large waterfowl land. They literally need a runway, like a 747, it takes some serious landing gear and brakes to stop them. Webbed feet create great resistance to slow them down as they touch the water. I love how this birds feathers also look like ripples of the waters surface. But truly, they are showing how wings work and how the air flowing over them and under them create the lift, drag, and all the things needs to be a master of flight.

Now that the west pond is sealed up, I was looking forward to seeing how birds have taken to it. Not as much variety as the East pond-especially as the West still may be brackish. Having these freshwater ponds, surrounded by the salty bay- it makes for superb habitat. The bay is productive, waters are not rough, there is food. Then fresh water available nearby on top of that-- a serious bonus for these birds!
East pond had black bellied plovers (who in winter only have black wing pits), dunlin, shoveler, and brant mostly.

After looping the West pond- I saw a large dark figure-- definitely a raptor. Closer look was now my second bald eagle ever at Jamaica Bay- an immature bird circling high over the East side. This is super zoomed in and cropped. 

The feeders behind the visitors center are always good for house finch.

After visiting the East Pond, then the West Pond, I went back to the East pond to visit Big John's Pond and the blinds and over looks. I was treated to a group of 9 fish crows at the traffic crossing. I LOVE corvids, I of course greatly admire the intelligence and their behavior.

These birds were up to something. Was it coincidence that they came over after I pressed the traffic signal to cross the road?

Did they plan this? Did they know? There are reports of crows waiting for traffic signals to change to do exactly this-- consume someones discarded (I think it's a quesadilla) snack. Here they are in the bike lane-- which is a bit more protected.

The ones eating seem younger- as they appear to have the remains of their pink gapes on the sides of their mouth. A bird did stay up on a pole-- was that an adult watching? Teaching them this? Supervising?

They dashed when traffic started up again, but came back down as it cleared. They were very focused on getting the prize inside the bag. In birding, I love watching behavior. I love seeing what birds do, how they figure things out, how they get what they needs, and its rewarding in the rare- but even still and sometimes more so in the common birds.

A ruddy duck to close out. Despite skipping the rarity in NJ, I was pretty happy with my day out.