Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rarity: Yellow-headed blackbird in Brooklyn

     I woke up early this morning to join the Birding in Peace tour in Green-Wood Cemetery. Why I decided to not sleep in at all this weekend, it's really beyond me. Perhaps I am obsessed. Yeah, that's probably it.
     The walk was really great, highlights included a common nighthawk flyover, quite a few warbler species, endless phoebes, and a flycatcher chasing a bat in broad daylight. We had very much gone over the 8am end time-- which no one ever complains about - but then came the tweet-- like the Twitter kind.
     A fellow birder found a yellow-headed blackbird at Floyd Bennett Field among a flock of starlings. It's pretty big news. So, the tour ends and we all head our separate ways. Not going to lie, my luck with chasing-- not so great. So I decided to head home, fulfill my hunger (a hangry Jen is not a good thing) and keep an eye on tweets.
     The bird was re-found and off I went...
I arrived to it sitting inside a tree near the football fields and the temporary farm they set up at Floyd Bennett Field.

And it sat...

And sat.
Also, did I mention it is late September and 90 degrees outside? Can't blame it for being in the shade.

I won't lie, the bird did move... a little. It was deeper in the tree when I first arrived and photos were impossible. This was a better view. But I had burned so much time waiting for this bird to come out- I actually had an appointment to make at 2:15-- and I am sitting in the grass, sweating, hoping to get a good look at this bird.
Well. My wish was granted.

For a hot second- the bird perched on a fence. I wish I had thought to move to not have the stupid green railing IN EVERY SHOT, but I didn't I was too excited. Wow. What a BEAUTIFUL bird! A male, in it's amazing plumage.
A few things to note besides the obvious yellow head that gives it its name- they also have white patches on their wings just where their wrist bends and yellow feather right on their vent (aka their cloaca-- or where the poop comes out). This bird was bigger than our red-winged blackbirds, almost felt more thrasher sized- especially with those long legs!

So why were Brooklyn birders loosing their shit over this bird? Well- check out a range map- these birds don't really venture east. They are west coast birds. Who knows what brought this bird here, between the burning west coast and storms churning in the Atlantic messing with the winds-- this guy could have got caught on the wind mis-directing him, or maybe got caught up with a flock of other birds and stuck it out with them, arriving here.
Actually the whole mystery behind birds and how they get off course is such a fascinating thing to think about.

See the life history of the yellow-headed blackbird here, from Cornell's All About Birds:

Really happy I got to see this LIFE BIRD in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn and urban birding has been so fulfilling in so many ways. It has provided a network of like-minded people who send out alerts to amazing birds, who will keep eyes on that bird till others arrive, and share their knowledge. I have seen so many birds living here and some very special ones at that. Shout out to those Brooklyn Birders- you are awesome! 

This bird also marks my 250th bird of the year for 2017. I am happy with that as my number, even though I know I am behind many. There are still winter birds coming in and migration is still on- so there is still much to see! But for now-- glad to add this guy to my year AND life list!
AND, I still made it home to shower so I wasn't 100% gross and get a much needed haircut. I am dominating adult life.

Super HUGE shoutout to Heydi L. who found this AMAZING bird- well done! Girls who bird are holdin' down the fort in Brooklyn! 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Feminist Bird Club Walk- 9/23/17

     I was happy today to join the Feminist Bird Club walk today, put together by Molly- we had a decent sized group, with good spotting eyes, and some good birds. With the time I was on the walk, and then splitting ways, I tallied up just over 51 species. While most of Brooklyn was flocking to Coney Island Creek, we held our ground in the park.
     It was nice to bird with a few others, I usually go solo- this weekend is a social birding weekend as I join a Birding in Peace Tour tomorrow at Green-Wood Cemetery.
After meeting at the dog beach- we headed over to Lookout Hill's butterfly meadow. It had a lot of birdy activity. We saw prairie, parula, blackpoll, black-and-white, Cape May- all in one tree. Then there were American Goldfinch (pictured), feeding on what seeds remain.

And then, that look of "oh, crap."

A Cooper's hawk came out of some low trees and cut right across the meadow- to quiet all the birds, while it perched, visibly in a tree off to the side.

We headed over to the Maryland Monument steps. A red tail hawk sat right over the steps-- so not too many birds to be seen. Be we did get to watch it struggle to remove one clingy down feather stuck over its eye... can't use your talon for that one.

Nope. Still there. And then we watched it trip over its own feet-- this bird was having one of those mornings, for sure. 
A back-lit black-and-whote warbler on the Peninsula. I love their own talons- best for climbing any way up or down a vertical/upside down/right side up surface.

We've been spotted- a pied-billed grebe watches us as we watch it.

Sometimes you have to accept a crappy photo into your life to prove to the ebird moderators that you are not a liar. A hooded warbler was a welcome sight in the vale, after splitting from the group.

Acting very skulky- it was in crap light and on the move- so blurry shots to prove I can make an ID of a bird that is one of the easier warblers to ID... *grumble*

After the hooded warbler satisfied my birding hunger- I had to now satisfy my actual hunger, decided to head to the farmers market at Grand Army for a little nosh.
But not without a look at a darling Eastern Phoebe.

My most FAVORITE thing, is when I can see a bird eye, clearly-- AND capture it in a photo. Normally, you don't get to see great detail of a birds eye- unless its a grackle, or a species where the pupil contrasts greatly from all else. Anyway, I was stoked to see those sweet brown eyes on this bird.

A perfect phoebe!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Outside my Normal Range

     With only one weekend day to enjoy, I decided to try my luck in Queens in 2 parks I never visited before, Alley Pond Park (I have only visited the Nature Center side) and Kissena Park. The earlier being more fruitful than the latter (party my fault, late start-- sleep was nice).
     With a September day feeling muggy and hot, it felt more like Early August. When I got to Alley Pond Park, the fog still lingered, it had cleared when I left Brooklyn. But in a way that worked out, as it seems to have kept much of the insects dormant and gave a nice burst of birds once it cleared. At least it felt that way. All my photos are from Alley Pond- Kissena seemed promising, but by noon, it was just too hot with little going on aside from robins and catbirds.
A charismatic common yellowthroat. These birds were true to their name today, quite common!

A really welcome surprise, a worm eating warbler in close range eat berries-- or insects eating the berries next to one of the ponds in the park.
Having never traveled to this park, or portion of the park before. I walked what looked like trails. Some got a little brushy. This one lead to the South side of a pond (that shows up on a map, but is either just mud with a lot of phragmites, or a very small pond, concealed by a lot of phragmites. Anyway, I found a lot of places where people might skulk about- trash and littered bottles, so I was a bit weary-- but then it got pretty birdy. More important was to pay closer attention to where I stood, poison ivy reached across the narrow trail and I definitely stepped in some a few times today.

This was a favorite bird that I saw today. I ran into another person in the park, assuming he was also looking for birds. When he asked me if I have seen anything good today, I mentioned that I enjoyed running into a worm-eating warbler. He basically was so dissatisfied with my answer.
"Oh, but they're not very colorful."

I enjoyed watching a small group of red-eyed vireos feed happily on these fleshy seeded fruits. They dangled and stuffed their beaks with what they could. Aren't they just absolutely seductive looking? I really liked how this bird just stared me down, like as if to taunt me, knowing how badly I'd love to capture it in a frame or twenty...

It must be awesome to be fearless doing this. Knowing that if you fall, you have wings to lift you back up again.
I'm jealous, I am so scared of heights, and dangling

I counted 6 ruby-throated hummingbirds today. I saw counts as high as 12 yesterday. 

This little bird is perched on a thick wire for the adventure course within the park. The line almost as thick as the bird itself.

This bird is a female or immature bird. Adult males possess that iridescent ruby throat patch that gives them their name.

My most favorite thing about this little bird--- LOOK AT THOSE LITTLE FEETS WITH LITTLE HUMMINGBIRD TALONS!

Why so many hummingbirds? Jewelweed is in bloom EVERYWHERE. And these little birds need to fuel up for their journey all the way down to Mexico and Central America.

A fun view from the back, of that green that oddly lets them blend in quite well and hovering wings at work.

Anyone up for a quick game of baseball? I hope no one fouls one back within this back stop. I do not think these bald faced hornets would be too happy-- would definitely charge the mound.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Consolation Prize

     The worst part about loving birds, birding, and being outside is Twitter. Because you're sitting at work and there go the tweets (literal tweets)... clay-colored sparrow, lark sparrow- just chillin' all day, together in Green-Wood Cemetery not only yesterday but continuing today!
     Yesterday my sister and I rode our bikes 75 miles around NYC- so yesterday was a no-go. But today... oh man, oh man. I also today did my first day on a bike commuter/pollutant exposure study, so I had to zip home- make sure I wasn't breaching protocol and I got my stuff and ran back out the door.
    So with this study, I have to wear some stuff- a vest with some microPEM air monitors- and when you put on binoculars and the camera, you look pretty ridiculous.
     Anyway, I made it to Green-Wood, to the spot that I freakin' walked through SATURDAY when the lark sparrow was first seen and got to work snooping around...
So I arrived.. and the first thing I did was trip because I wasn't paying attention to where I was walking... I notice though a very pointy-winged thing... falcon? seems a little off for falcon...
NIGHTHAWK! (A common nighthawk, to be exact)

What a nice treat! I had been wanting to see these guys as they gather over Prospect's Neathermead in sometimes good numbers and I had yet to go. And I have been wanting to go- so it was awesome to see a few on this very short trip out.
I have pretty fond memories of seeing these guys during cross country practice at Bethpage State Park in High School on late afternoons in the fall. I remember seeing them and wondering what they were. I consulted the field guide in secret when I got home (ew, don't let other people in school know I do this-- nah, they totally knew. #nerd) and was amazed to discover what the heck a nighthawk was.

There were at least 5 soaring around above Green-Wood at the Sylvan water area. They were a nice consolation prize because I could not find the lark sparrow.

But. I did find this guy!
A clay-colored sparrow!

Stuck out pretty well from the many chipping sparrows and cowbirds around. Very beautiful in the late day sun. I have seen this species once before on my first Christmas bird count, but it was SO. FAR. AWAY. This bird was super not shy and beautiful. Glad I got to see it in such beautiful light.
--And now it's time for dinner and bed (before 8pm) as I will be monitoring Tribute in Light tonight for migrating birds. Wish me luck-- I am anything but a night owl!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

All That and a Bag of Chips!

     I woke up yesterday exhausted. I drank a cup of coffee (which I do every day, but not for caffeine, but because I like the ritual and flavor), still exhausted. 12pm, still yawning uncontrollably. By 2:30 a migraine is in the midst. 4:30pm, time to leave, have been wearing sunglasses indoors the last hour because my eyes hurt from any light. I accomplish a decent amount for the day despite this hurdle, but have zero energy to ride my bike. I nearly fall asleep with it on the train. End up on the couch with a look to me that even worried Tim. Wake up today-- rainbows and sunshine!
     I officially feel old- a week of me getting home late each night (not late-late, more like 9pm late) -- due to pretty nerdy things like training for bird monitoring at tribute in light this coming 9/11 (actually my shift is 9/12 from 2-4am!), training for a study I am assisting in with my bicycle commutes, and a minor league baseball game to see Noah Syndergaard and his beautiful self pitch a few innings. But I suppose all that adds up and by Friday I was pretty beat.
     I was happy to feel good today because it was birdy out there and I have a bike ride tomorrow with my sister! I got some pretty decent looks at some birds this morning and it made me feel better about my last couple of "meh" days of birding. I was excited because there was much chipping type going on. In fall, warblers don't sing like they do in spring migration. Chip calls are used as warning calls but also as contact calls during migration, to let everyone who is moving along together stay together and in contact. I used my ears to guide me in Green-Wood today, following every little "chip" I heard and following with my eyes for activity.

I had a good feeling traveling to Green-Wood today, I read a tweet from The City Birder about how the trees near the Civil War Monument were "dripping with birds," talk about tantalizing!
I walked in and within 5 minutes I had 4 warbler species already seen, en route to the hill where the monument sits.

Pine warbler in a spruce tree.

Flycatchers, or known as Empids among birders. They are the biggest pain sometimes. But I think I got this one... Pretty darn sure this is a yellow-bellied flycatcher- yellow underside, large head... 
...and pretty contrasting feathers on the wings.

In case you wanted some bird humor about flycatchers... thankfully the yellow-bellied has a yellow lower mandible.

Someone else came for the birdy action today.
An American kestrel scouts out the abundance of American Redstarts.

The best part about migration- birds are hungry and in a rush to get where they are going. Night time is flight time, day time is refuel time- and they will do whatever it takes to catch their food. In spring time, these black-throated green warblers will strain your neck as you try to get a look at them-- but come fall, they will feed wherever the food is at. This one at eye level up a grassy hill as it chased flying insects on the ground.

Saw many small groups of brown-headed cowbirds. This little group had some character to them. They sat, fairly proud, not at all caring of my presence, and had a this look... decipher it as you wish.

A chipping sparrow- it threw me off, honestly. I am so used to their spring look- come non-breeding, they have a completely different look that made me think twice.

I had some trouble with this bird last week- but due to me mis-id'ing at first, I will always remember-- this is a Cape May warbler!

An Ovenbird-- seen with similar looking/behaving birds like veery's and Swainson's thrushes. While the ovenbird looks like and acts like a thrush-- it's a warbler.

A lot of black-and-white warblers everywhere-- on tree, on headstones, on the ground...

Also abundant, magnolia warblers. This one hunting for insects among the leaves.

And the most abundant-- after the 4th one, it becomes, "ugh, another redstart."
American redstarts are everywhere, but you have to check every time because it could always be something different!
No pictures, but this happened and good thing I checked, because among redstarts, I got my first ever Nashville Warbler!
Also, this is the best picture I may have ever got of a redstart because it sat still for 2 seconds, instead of half a second.

Better looks at that Cape May...

Still a really good looking bird in the fall.

B&W Warbler... like I said, one trees, headstones, and the ground.

Also a nice sight of a scarlet tanager who dropped in and gave me a good enough look.

A very stoic Northern Flicker-- out in the open-- not their usual gig. I always find them in the grass or hiding in a tree.

Again, flycatchers-- but I also think I am lucky on this one, large head, no eye ring-- feeling pretty good calling this an Eastern wood-pewee.

Left on a nice note of two pine warblers foraging on this hydrangea-type plant.

Glad to have had a good morning out- I definetly needed it!