Monday, March 18, 2013

A Friday Stroll Through the Park

A vacant Oriole nest. Northern Orioles will be making their way back soon, I hope, they are one of my favorite birds and they make these amazing hanging nests. This one looks like it has a lot of fishing line in it, which may be nice for nest building, but is also hazardous to the birds themselves.
     The city parks are an absolute oasis for wildlife, I am always excited to see something new because the potential for it is definitely there. I decided that after work on Friday I'd ride my bike over to Prospect Park and see what was going on, especially with birds on the move for migration. I wish Prospect had more places to safely secure my bike as I have to walk it around the entire time with me and nothing is more conducive to wildlife watching than my bike clinking and clanking along with me, or falling over as I try to rest it on a tree (I should invest in a kickstand). So my bike, myself, and my camera did the best and quietest as we could to see what we could see. First stop was the lake and right off the bat I thought I saw a pair of scaup (lesser and greater look the same to me from afar). I grabbed some "meh" photos only to reveal they were actually ring-neck ducks, which is a new bird for me (yay!). The Northern shovelers are going nowhere fast, heck they barely lift their heads to acknowledge anything, they were so busy feeding on whatever is tasty in that lake. Ruddy ducks were plentiful as well, also spotted a cormorant and a pair of pied billed grebes.
     I also walked my bike up the hill that goes up by the war memorial for the Maryland soldiers from the Revolutionary War - we're talking the Battle of Brooklyn (I'm sure all these areas have real names, but for now its the hill that stands above the Maryland Memorial). I walked the paved and dirt paths to find some woodpeckers foraging and lots of felled trees from the hurricane last fall. I really wanted to spot an owl, but I'm really awful at finding owls, unless they are sitting on the beach. All I did find was a gorgeous view of the Verazzano Bridge with an overcast sunset through the leafless trees and a man sitting alone off the trail smoking, and so after finding the latter I continued then down the hill with my bike.  Did I mention that down the hill meant stairs? So I carried my bike down the hill via some old paved stairs. Good thing I was still wearing my helmet. Sidenote: I have been on my own birding/walking the side trails in Prospect Park and I have learned that people sitting in the forest doing nothing isn't always a good thing... one time some young men tried to have me come over to them when I was watching a kingfisher, yeah... no. I've also seen things in the park, not worth mentioning, so when it feels fishy, I take my own personal cue to leave.
     The overcast greyishness of the late afternoon/early evening made getting photos of critters a challenge. I am still learning how to use this camera and how to "edit" my photos without any fancy programs, so enjoy! I do love that these city birds are so much more used to tighter quarters, like any real New Yorker, I was literally surprised by a downy woodpecker who foraged about 8 feet up a tree and allowed me to stand nearby to watch her and take her pictures from a very short distance away.
A pair of Ring-neck Ducks. The female didn't look like a female scaup, so that was tip number one, but then I grabbed a photo with the male turning his head and the little white ring (I would have called this a ring-billed duck, not so much going on around the neck...) on his bill gave him up. 
This female ruddy duck just came back up from a dive with that piece of aquatic plant in her bill. She was also splashing around in the water quite a bit. I've never seen a ruddy in flight, but I can only assume they look comical. They are such oddly proportioned birds, built for diving more than anything else. 
Brooklyn is always full of interesting people, including the woman who sat at the lake with a box - not a small bakery box - like, a giant cardboard box filled with bread giving it out to the birds. I disagree with feeding birds copious amounts of bread. first off, it's garbage for birds. Bread feeding is also suspected to be a factor in causing a condition known as angel wing, which prevents birds from flying and it could really shorten their lifespan. The reasons go on and on - all I have to say is bread is bad, and sadly, people will continue to do this thinking that they are doing good on behalf of the birds. Learn more about bread and why over feeding of it to waterfowl  is bad here via the Wildlife Center of Virginia's Dave McRuer DVM's explanation on the consequences of feeding waterfowl in the park.
Northern shovelers feeding on the lake. These ducks have really big bills in proportion to their bodies and they feed by spiraling with one another another and stirring up any tasty morsels in the water. They are called "dabbling ducks" because this describes perfectly how they feed, by dabbling (by using their bills to collect water and essentially eat whatever they filter out).
This Canada Goose was marked with a neck collar. These collars are put on by researchers studying these birds, bands come in all sorts of colors and mean different things, the USGS explains more here.
Robins aren't really a "sign of spring" because, they actually spend the whole winter here! They forage along the forest floor turning over leaves looking for any hidden morsels, they will also eat berries off of the trees. So sorry to ruin your idea of "spring" but there are much more reliable signs than robins - like say, that vibrant green grass. 
This female downy woodpecker was surprisingly close and okay with being photographed. Actually, she surprised me, I was standing right under her, the only thing that gave her away was the soft tapping of her beak on the tree.  I see why they call them downy woodpeckers, having all those pretty soft looking white feathers on the back. 
I also am always amazed at how this little nothing of an animal has the power to chisel away bark and not get a concussion.  
A pied-billed grebe who later on had a friend swimming alongside.
Here is a male (right) and female (....obviously then, on the left) pair of Ruddy Ducks. The male can have an even brighter blue bill than that. They also have those adorable white cheeks. They do have a very stiff rudder-like tail - maybe that is where they get the ruddy in ruddy duck from, who knows. The tail is usually held right at or under the surface of the water.
The mute swans always amaze me with their "docile-ness," sometimes I think they are a little to docile. Here, only a few years ago on my way home from work, I actually pulled my bike over and told some (very young, who were not being watched) kids how they shouldn't try to grab the swans by the neck because it is dangerous for the swans and that a 20 pound swan can also really mess you up. 
     I hope people can appreciate nature without disrupting it. Even sometimes I have to think about my distance in observation, how close is too close? I never intend harm on the wildlife I watch and don't want to scare them away. I really do feel concern for the waterfowl at the pond in Prospect Park. They are incredibly trusting when it comes to humans, and not all humans want to be friendly to them in return. People throw things, chase, and harass waterfowl too, so please think twice when you are feeding birds from hand about the potential damage you could be doing to them psychologically. Because in reality, should a goose/swan/duck really feel safe in approaching a human? Naturally, probably not. For more information about feeding waterfowl, I recommend you check out this publication by Dave McRuer DVM. called "The consequences of feeding waterfowl in public parks," he has some fantastic information on the importance of limiting human/waterfowl interaction.