Monday, November 30, 2015

Brooklyn Bunting

     Urban wildlife never ceases to amaze me. In our little urban oases, our NYC parks, we sometimes get some really wonderful little visitors. Attracted to these green spaces, many designed with purposeful wildlife habitat in mind, birds, small mammals, and insects come to these places for food, shelter, and a new space to inhabit. Since many of NYC's parks are designed and literally put together with plantings, water features, and more, in the beginning parks were for our leisure and viewing pleasure, so many plants were ornamental, not native and not helpful to wildlife.
     Moving forward to today, native species have become more of a focus when redesigning new additions within existing parks or when creating new parks, making these places not only pleasing for us, but wildlife too. Some of these areas are designed so well, we get some wonderful wildlife sights, like the Painted Bunting hanging out in Prospect Park.
Enjoy the sights from Saturday 11/18 and today, Monday 11/30:
Saturday was overcast and chilly, I saw that the feeders were back up for business this winter. All I saw there was this downy woodpecker, feeding on the suet cakes. Today, it seemed like more birds came in for the handouts, including titmice, chickadees, goldfinch, WB nuthatch, and a Brown creeper that walked diligently up the trees surrounding the feeders.
Near the dirt pile on Wellhouse Drive, I saw a warbler fly fast and it did not stay put long enough for me to see what it was, especially since both an Orange Crowned AND Nashville had been reported in that exact area. After that, all I saw in the area were cardinals, a catbird, and both song & white-throated sparrows. A song sparrow here forages for seeds in a brush pile.
A female house sparrow stands with what seems like purpose and strength. I took this photo after being spoken to by two separate groups of men. They spoke behind my back about me, inappropriately and at length. I did not confront, being alone and knowing there was more than one person in each group doing this to me. So after feeling pretty grimy by the words spoken cowardly, behind my back, I purposefully sought out a badass female bird. This sparrow did just the trick, she looks pretty badass, and I bet she is.
I have a love/hate relationship with ginkgo trees-- this is the love side of it- they are stunning in the fall. But the berries from female trees are not pleasing to my nose and shoe soles. I love those golden, fan-shaped leaves, and below the tree is a growing carpet of gold as the leaves are shed.
It was 60 degrees yesterday, perhaps with today's chill, this squirrel realizes winter is actually coming, and he should store up on acorns and other goodies.

To find today's prize, all I had to do was look for other people staring at a shrub...
The painted bunting, it is one of those birds in your field guide that as you flip through pages when you're bored, just familiarizing yourself with birds- it's the one that when you get to their page and you linger just a little longer than the others. You wonder if you would ever get the chance to see one as they live quite far out of range from NY. Well, who knew I would get to see one, here in NY, just a mile away from home!
Painted buntings are normally restricted to places in the South Eastern US, into some parts of the Southern mid-West. This individual is a male, females are greenish to pale yellow, much less flashy than the males who use their colors to attract mates, while also making themselves easy targets for predators.
In the time I spent viewing this bird, he was first feeding on the red berries where I first saw him, then sat, perched in this taller shrub for a bit, before flying off to the rooftop of the new buildings on Lakeside. The building has a green roof with amazing habitat that attracts in seed eating birds like sparrows, cardinals, and with tall grasses and shrubs, warblers hunt here for insects that also are attracted into this wonderful little man-made habitat, boasting native species, atop a structure for the leisurely enjoyment of humans.
He was much harder to photograph in the grasses where he sought out seeds from the grasses and wildflowers. I also figured I had good enough looks at him, I didn't want to overwhelm him with viewers, hopefully he has a game plan for winter and makes it to wherever it is that he needs to be.
One of the mute swan families flew overhead, they are such huge birds and pretty cool in flight. These individuals are the juvenile birds, they are a bit more gray in color, with gray bills.
A little ruby crowned kinglet checked me out in his world that seems to be in a constant state of "fast-forward." A (very) short pause gets you a fuzzy shot in cruddy lighting. 
...And just a little fun, I was excited because I have now sighted all the birds on my favorite drinking glasses, from Fishs Eddy, my Oldham and Harper collection of birds. I use these glasses to quiz my husband on their ID's and was really excited to share with him today that I have found all of the birds on our glasses. Here they are side by side:
Song Sparrow

White-breasted Nuthatch

Black and white Warbler

Painted Bunting

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Massapequa Preserve

     After having worked extra days and hours this month, it felt awesome to have yesterday off. I took the day to drive out to Massapequa, in Nassau County to do some birding. My friend Jeffrey joined me for his first trip out that way. Having extra eyes was key to finding 40 species within the preserve, we each were able to spot things that we otherwise would have missed and the lakes are just duck heaven! We got what we went for, and so that made the entire day very much worthwhile.
Within 20 feet of my parked car we had spotted hooded mergansers, American coots, mallards, black ducks, and ruddy ducks. From another view we found some female Northern Pintails mixed in among the lilies and black ducks.
A downy woodpecker taken in the world from a different perspective. It was very comfortable outside, he was probably finding lots of yummy things to eat.

Just North of Sunrise Highway, we strolled along a small creek connecting the lakes. There was a very not shy male wood duck. I wondered if he was a food beggar, because in my experience, wood ducks like to keep their distance.
This bird answered my question, this Canada Goose has angel wing, a deformity that comes from poor nutrition, usually associated with being fed by humans. This does not allow the bird to fly, to find food when it is scarce, to avoid predation, or migrate. Learn more about it here. Of course moments later, we saw people feeding the waterfowl, thankfully not bread, but simply feeding waterfowl makes them very not shy of people-- which is great for the photos that follow, and those of us who know to keep our distance-- but unfortunate for those who don't understand to give these animals respectable distance and that they are wild animals.
Another goose within the feeding area, with a deformed wing, surely this bird cannot fly.
Mute swan face.
A domestic mallard was among the fowl on the length of creek that is fed by folks.
We got looks yesterday at Carolina and Winter Wren, pictured. The winter wren was super tiny and fast! 
Same male wood duck from earlier.
In the group of ducks who were fed, was also a male and female pintail pair! I have never ever seen a pintail so close, within 20 feet of myself.

I love the detail in all their feathers, super beautiful. One thing I enjoy about winter is that the male ducks are looking spiffy for the ladies.
The females are quite beautiful in their own right. Their camouflage makes them hard to find, but they look perfect for the places in which they live. The female pintail is so drastically different from the male in looks.
Robins were quite abundant among these berry bushes. I also really like this photo.
We saw 3 woodpecker species today, the downy (scroll towards the top), the red-bellied (not pictured), and the hairy, seen here. Larger than the downy, with a longer bill. Jeffrey mentioned how it would be nice to see one and then moments later, it was right in front of our faces. I like when things work out like that! We decided to turn back and bird our way back to the car, it was a good decision in timing as you will see...
Everyone was in awe, this swan was so beautiful, but really, he was on the defense. He swam down the creek with purpose, when he approached another family of swans he attacked one of the juveniles and adults. Apparently the creek is not big enough for 2 swan families.
Just one more! I loved this freaking pintail! 
Jeffrey's sharp eyes caught this one- a rusty blackbird. I would have totally missed this bird!
I don't remember what we were looking at, but once I saw the crowd, I knew what they must be looking at. Aside from knowing bird behavior, knowing and observing human behavior is helpful in birding. A crowd gathered to look at this red-morph Eastern Screech Owl. A lifer for both of us! Pretty much the reason why I wanted to come here, this made the day complete!
He didn't do much, except turn his head with half-closed eyes, seemingly squinting from the low sun in the sky.
One thing I love about birding is when I get to talk to people and share with them. I got to share my binoculars with a family, and helped them to find and see an owl too. I got to chat with a little girl about what the owl is called, how big (err, little) he is, and how much he weighs. I hope that they went home and maybe looked up owls in a book or online and found a little excitement in nature. 
Some screech owl fun- the little "ears" are not ears, just tufts of feathers. Those tufts are camouflage, also can communicate a lot about the owl and its current mood. Their ears are located on the side of their head, and that little circle, that is formed around the face, helps channel sound into those ears, much like a satellite dish. These owls do screech, when you tick them off, but their actual call is very haunting and eerie. Armed with talons and silent flight, these birds hunt smaller birds, small mammals, insects, and have even been known to catch small fish and frogs! But there is one fact that is best known, these guys are super cute and charismatic. When this little owl was done with us, he simply back down into the hole and disappeared. On a normal day, people must walk by his little roost, unknowing of his presence in the tree over their heads!
The scan of a far off tree before we leave reveals a peregrine falcon, who is in prime territory to knock a flying duck out from the sky. So many ducks were coming/going as we were preparing to migrate back to the city.
I adore hooded mergansers, a departing shot to remember a great birding day!

Playing Catch-up

     It sure is feeling like that time of the year, where the hustle and bustle picks up as the holidays roll in. So birding has trumped any blogging, and to be honest, I have had some less than stellar outings, but I am very thankful just to have the privilege of going outside.
     These are from last week, Monday 11/16, in Coney Island, when there were cave swallows all over the place (I missed the boat on those) and from last Sunday, 11/22 at Floyd Bennett Field.
 Coney Island, 11/16:
A greater Black-Back Gull looking handsome. I love these gulls, their size, bold, dark wings, and they seem to know they are larger than the others. They don't seem to squabble among the smaller gulls, because all they do is step in and do their thing, because they can.
I love bird eyes, often, from afar, they just look like little black beady things, but you can see the gold iris around the dark pupil.
Was hoping maybe just maybe this was a lesser black-back gull... nope, just a smiling herring gull.
Floyd Bennett Field:
It was an overcast day, fairly chilly, and fairly un-birdy. My friend Jeffrey and I ventured around FBF checking out the community Gardens, the nature trails, and fishing/boat launch area. Hawks were easy to spot, like this Cooper's Hawk, as trees become bare, look for a big lump on a branch. He also taught me a little kestrel spotting trick, they seems to almost always sit at the tippy tops of the little branches on top of trees. We saw kestrels doing just that, as well as hunting the fields between runways.
We saw a good number of sparrows, like this song sparrow. We also saw white-throated, field, savannah, a fox sparrow, and juncos.
At the fishing area, we saw some bufflehead, far off loons, and cormorants. The normally abundant brant and gulls were nowhere this day, it was amazingly not an abundant bird day. I blamed the weather.
I did get my first Brooklyn tick! An adult female deer tick. This is smaller than the dog tick, these are the ticks that carry lyme disease, I randomly scratched my back when I got home and caught this thing under a fingernail. Thankfully it never bit and embedded itself. I stick ticks on scotch tape when I find them, I can then investigate them, and save them if needed. Since this one never bit me, I did not need to freeze and keep him, while simultaneously keeping an eye out for symptoms.