Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Road Trip Raptors

WWII Memorial a-la iPhone panorama

     I love a good scenic road trip. Last weekend took us down to Virginia, right outside of D.C. in Alexandria. We had a family get together with cousins who wanted to just throw a celebration at their  new home as well as celebrate the fact that they will be welcoming a new member to their family very soon! It was lovely to be with family and I had a lot of fun. The day was gorgeous so we spent the afternoon outside eating food, playing corn hole, and keeping the niece and nephews entertained (this usually involves lots of peek-a-boo, running and seeing how out of shape I am, and having the most ridiculous of conversations - Bill Cosby was right, kids say some hilarious things!
     The trip down entailed driving down I-95 from NY to VA. Turkey vultures were everywhere, I love seeing them, and tons of red-tailed hawks either flying or perched up on roadside trees. Even when we arrived at our party, I was distracted by low flying hawks, I have self diagnosed avian ADD. I see a bird and my attention is away from whatever I was doing before the bird made its appearance.
     The next day we had the chance to spend some time in Washington D.C. It was an overcast day, but thankfully the rain stayed away. We had the chance to walk around the National Mall, up to the Washington Monument and the WWII memorial, which was absolutely gorgeous, looking down towards Lincoln Memorial. We even spied some early cherry blossom blooms!
Cherry Blossoms start to bloom in front of the Washington Monument
     On our walk back, we decided to go past the White House and wave "Hi" to the Obamas. I had to steal the camera from my husband because, like I said, I have avian ADD and I am always on the lookout for nature, I spotted a red-tail being chased by a crow. The hawk had nothing in it's talons so the crow was probably just annoyed by the fact that a hawk was in the area. I grabbed three shots and two of those are okay. Overcast days result in silhouette-like flight shots. I love hawks and crows, they are not super well appreciated but I hope that I can help with that!
A red-tail hawk pretending that it is minding its own business....
The crow on the right is so not cool with the hawk being in the area. Crows and members of the corvid (crow family - which includes blue jays) family are super intelligent. I have a lot of respect for them because they make the not-so-nice name calling of "bird brain" seem like a most wonderful compliment! 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Feeder Fun in Prospect Park

A song sparrow escapes the hanging feeder drama by foraging for all the fallen seeds below.
     Maybe this bird feeder station has been in Prospect Park forever, but I just noticed two weeks ago a hanging bird feeder atop the hill I used to cross daily on my commute to work for about 2.5 years. I never saw it then, but now there is this sweet little feeder station set up on the hill just off the main paved path. It's nice to attract in birds via feeders to allow park goers to see a nice variety of birds many don't realize exist beyond "pigeons, sparrows, geese, and sea gulls." We used to stock feeders when I worked at Audubon, but always had issues with rats joining the birds, but so far it was squirrel and rat free. There were some photographers there with big gigundo lenses, even though all the birds were really close, my "tiny" in comparison 300 lens got some pretty nice shots just fine. I do get lens envy, but it did seem kind of silly to have such a giant lens for such close range sightings.
     I had fun trying to capture birds in flight. The feeders are fun for bird drama, there is squabbling over the best perch, smaller birds get displaced, or small birds get a Napoleon complex and displace larger birds. There is a lot of action without birds just flying away completely from the area. Sometimes its hard to resist not playing out some sort of bird soap opera in your head as you sit and watch the action.
     Most of the birds sighted were fairly common, American goldfinch (still in their winter get-up), N. cardinals, house finches, tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, red-winged black birds, white throated sparrows, song sparrows, house sparrows, white-breasted nuthatch, dark eyed juncos, hairy woodpeckers, mourning doves, and pine siskins (which are a new one for me, yay!).
     After the photographers left, a dad and his two kids came over to look, and it was just so cool to see kids naturally hush their voices and go into stealth mode. It was so nice to hear their observations, and part of me just wanted to point out and help them ID the birds, but a natural process of learning and observing was happening so I decided to let them be. I just love when kids get excited for wild animals, even ones that are pretty common, it's super cool to see, it gives me hope for the future.

An American goldfinch still in its winter plumage enjoys the thistle seed feeder. The male goldfinches are very pretty during breeding season and for me are one of the easiest bird to ID by their flight pattern, they literally fly in a way that looks like the way you draw water as a 5 year old. Peak then dip, then peak, then dip....
A suet feeder packed with some yummy suet cakes are a tempting draw for woodpeckers, like this hairy woodpecker. I  observed all these birds well after 3pm, so these must have been recently stocked.
A dark eyed junco avoids the commotion above and forages on the ground. These guys will soon be gone to go back North as spring moves in.
A doe-eyed tufted titmouse. I find these guys rather cute, and have fun trying to call them in with whistles.
Male house finches watch as the chickadees move in... Now I'm just having fun with flight... 
A house finch suspended in time
A female house finch flies in on the upper left and a male at the lower right- I love his wings!
A tufted titmouse makes off with his prize. I love how he has yet to pull in his landing gear.
A red wing black bird stares on as a mourning dove is about to displace a male house finch. Or is that male house finch about to round-house kick that dove? You be the judge. 
These pine siskins are a first for me and they make a good first impression, this shot makes them look like they are totally about to kick butt and take names.
At first I just thought they were female or winter goldfinches, then a goldfinch showed up and I realized I needed to reevaluate. 
The siskins were loving the thistle seed, they were on the other feeders too, but spent most of their time here.
     I was trying originally to figure out what in the world this "sparrow" was. It looked so close but not close enough to a few sparrows - after putting word out via Facebook, a friend took a look and passed it onto "her guys," Jim and Don. Well, Jim and Don were able to ID it as a female redwing blackbird, and I confused it for something else, oops! Super huge thanks to my friend Jill for passing my photo on Jim and Don and a super huge thanks to those two gentlemen, Jim and Don, for helping me figure out what in the world this lil' bird was.
A redwing blackbird female and a chickadee. Corrected from earlier: Not a "Redwing" a little bird miscommunication happened there!

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.

Friday, March 8, 2013

March Comes in Like a Lion

Central park, looking to the SE corner. The city always looks so much prettier in snow... But only fresh snow. Brown-grey snow is gross.
     The last few days the weatherman has got me good. There has been all this talk about snow and rain and the last two days I have taken care to wear some sort of shoe to ensure that my feet stayed dry and it never even got wet out there. Well, I look out my window this morning and I see this sad coating of wet snow, I curse the weatherman and his poor predictions the last few days and snubbed the snow boots and went for the sneakers. Terrible choice. We got about 2 inches of this wet smushy snow and I got cold wet feet in return, but my cold wet feet didn't stop me from going on a lunchtime walk through Central Park to get some pretty animals in snow photos.
     The fun thing about Central Park is that it's chock full of tourists, so when you point a camera at ANYTHING, people will try and see what you are looking at and they usually get pretty disappointed when it's just a sparrow and not Brad Pitt. Although, tourists, especially European tourists, get really excited for squirrels as I have learned that they don't really have squirrels there. Who knew!

I shouldn't even complain about my wet feet. This male mallard had his feet buried in the snow. Mallards are very widespread, you can find them across N. America, Asia, Europe, and even a bit of Africa.   
This female cardinal looks amazing in the snow. I feel like everyone needs a good cardinal in the snow photo.
I need to point out the cute tongue action occurring here. I love how the snow is stuck between his whiskers! 
A white throated sparrow finds a tasty tidbit.
I find it amazing that this dainty little sparrow is a descendant of dinosaurs. Can't you see a little glint of T-rex in that eye?
Hard to believe all these little birds and more live in the shadow of concrete towers, but they do!
Hold on little guys! Spring will be here soon, I hope!
     The snow is pretty, but I am definitely looking forward to the "lamb" part of March.

Manhattan's Wild Side

Hiding in the forest from the rest of New York City
     Most people only think of Manhattan as the concrete jungle, but if you look hard enough you can find wildlife hiding all around. Finding wildlife though tends to be easier when there is actual wild space to inhabit. Many people don't know about the treasure that is Inwood Hill Park, it is truly a wild place in that it is not manicured or built by man, it is the original landscape of Manhattan. It is full of hills, rocky ledges, and the tallest trees I have seen in all of NYC!
     My day began by taking the A train to the very end, or beginning, I suppose it depends on your perspective, to the tippy top of Manhattan. The day was sunny and almost warm, I actually broke a sweat walking the trails and hills of the park. The park is intimidating as you feel like you can get lost on the trails, but I did just fine, remembering the turns I took. It was also very desolate, and in my walk the only other people I saw were on their own, some were a little startled by the fact that I greeted them on the trail - a not very New York thing to do, but to ensure my own safety, I made sure I met every persons eyes and said "hi." Maybe I was being paranoid, but if you go on your own, just keep in mind, you are almost always on your own.
     The trails were full of birds and squirrels, they also had the melanistic (black) squirrels, which I really love. It was also nice to see squirrels that don't run up to a human on sight. They were being wild squirrels, foraging on the tulip trees, way high up or on the ground, digging up the remains of their cache.
     On the rotting logs bird gathered to forage, lots of chickadees, titmice, cardinals, and white throated sparrows. Speaking of rotting logs, the other thing I LOVED about this park was that it smelt like a real forest, it had that earthy smell that every good forest has. Honestly, unless you approached near the Henry Hudson Parkway or got a break in the trees in higher elevations, you kind of forget that you are actually in New York City.
     The sighting of the day was a golden crowned kinglet, a little flitty bird that is near impossible to photograph. I was really hoping to see eagles or an owl, but there was none of that.
     Enjoy some of the photos I was able to get, it's a beautiful park, I highly suggest a visit if you want to get away from that city park "perfectness." I plan to go back, especially as it get warmer!

A poofy white throated sparrow
Chickadees move too fast too often. This is the clearest shot I have ever gotten of one. Thankfully, I am a huge fan of bird tushies. Chickadees are one of the more entertaining birds to watch in my opinion because of their little acrobatics, I love when they dangle upside down on tiny branches.
Golden crowned kinglet. I love their teenie tiny beaks. These guys love being in coniferous (cone bearing) forests, and here he is hanging out near a white pine.
An interesting shot, but it allows you to see that gorgeous gold stripe on its head that gives it its name. Lil' bugger was quick! 
I saw red bellied and downy/hairy (they are really hard for me to tell apart) woodpeckers. These guys were actively drumming away. This is a red bellied woodpecker.
You're probably wondering why the heck someone would call this a red bellied woodpecker... well red headed woodpecker was already taken. They do a have a blush red patch of red on their belly that gives them their name. I love how well camouflaged this guy is! 
One of my all time faves! A white breasted nuthatch! Not only are the blue (+1), they make a funny little call (+1), they have that cute little upturned beak (+1), and they walk up and down the sides of trees - both upside down and right side up (+1) - this gives them a total of 4 cuteness points!
I feel like all male cardinals are just singing away in their pretty little heads the song, "I'm Sexy and I Know it." I mean, he totally knows it.
The tops of a tulip tree. Along with the sassafras, this is my other favorite tree. They get these gorgeous tulip like blooms which create these massive seed pod things (I'm not a botanist). The leaves are shaped like pressed tulips or cat faces. They grow so incredibly tall and have the straightest trunks. Native Americans used the trunks of these trees to create dugout canoes, because they grow so straight. They are just a beautiful tree and I get excited whenever I see them. The forest here was FULL of tulip poplars - which made me happy. 
This squirrel was foraging in the tulip tree. He was so high up! It was so nice to see them just being squirrels.
I love squirrel hands. This guy was digging up some stored away food. Squirrel hands are adapted to help them grasp their food and the branches they climb. They have some serious claws too!
This red tail hawk was so far away, but I felt like he/she teased me all day, this guy flew over me so many times on my hike. Finally as I was getting ready to leave he landed at the top of a tree up the hillside and then taunted me with a series of blurry photos.