Sunday, December 28, 2014

Perfect Beach Weather!

     The only thing I enjoy immensely in the winter is the beach, its finally empty, it feels wild, and it becomes a haven for wintering wildlife. Jones beach is a nightmare in the summer, thousands of folks flock there for some respite from the heat, but thousands also flock there in the winter, in the literal, bird sense.
     Birds migrate south to the waters in and around Long Island and New York City from the Northern regions. Seals also swim down to our waters, but we were not lucky enough to spot any yesterday. Yesterday we got the chance to see some large flocks of birds, plus the bird that likes to eat them, and unfortunately it was not a snowy owl, but (not in anyway complaining) got a not-so-shy peregrine falcon instead.
     I'll let the (many) pictures do the talking...
Our first stop was the Coast Guard Station and Jetty of beach there... we found in the waters (a lot) of Brant (that's the goose), cormorant (there is one in this mix, you can see his orange face/bill), black back gulls (there is one on the upper right), herring gulls (one in the middle and left side), black-bellied plovers (the little birds in the middle of the geese, below that gull), and long tailed ducks, loons, mergansers, and grebes (not pictured).
A lot of Brant Geese framed by the bridge leading to the Meadowbrook Parkway. We estimated around 250, potentially more.
A herring gull on the barbecue area gazebo. 
We moved onto the west end beach, and also removed some layers. With this arctic-looking landscape, temperatures were in the upper 40's, possibly into the 50's. It was by far my warmest winter beach visit I have ever had! This landscape attracts many arctic visitors, including snowy owls and snow bunting.
From the trail that takes us from parking lot to the beach we saw this impressive and massive flock. The movement was mesmerizing and beautiful. It's also impressive how these birds fly in a three dimensional world without collision and in perfect movement.
Some humans on the beach to provide a frame of reference for how impressive this flock was!

Clearly this flock is a shorebird of sorts...

Waves of water, bird, and cloud!
It felt so awesome when this massive flock finally plopped down in front of me. Their time on the ground revealed we had dunlin, the dark bird with the slightly down-ward curving bill, and in the mix, some sanderling, the white and grey birds with a shorter, straighter black bill.
My favorite behavior was that these birds keep their legs warn by tucking one up under their belly and hopping around on one foot as they move about the beach. Although, of all the days to stay warm, at the point, I was sweating in my t-shirt and sweatshirt combo!

For their little size and skittish personality, the safety in number factor had these birds moving in fairly close to me! I just stood still for quite some time and let them do their thing, pretty much until other beach goers spooked the flock off.

I was surprised that a predator wasn't hunting easily from this massive number of birds, but as we continued our walk, I spotted a dark-shadowy figure on top of a wooden pillar...
Enter peregrine falcon.
Be prepared for a large number of photos of this bird. I sat on the sand and just let this bird do whatever it felt, and it was not shy! 
Those black markings under their eye are like the black marks athletes put below their eyes, and are super helpful on a day like today! They reduce glare from sunlight, acting like sunglasses, giving this bird a better eye for catching their prey.
The bird preened its feathers. Preening is important, it ensures that feathers are kept in good condition and allows the bird to spread oil from a single gland (the only gland!) on its body, the preenal gland, located just on their rump. The oil from that gland helps keep feathers clean and waterproof. A wet bird cannot fly, so it is vital to make sure feathers are well conditioned, especially when you are an aerial predator!
A yawn shows off the hooked beak that allows this bird to tear apart its prey easily.
Now to show off his grabbers. Those talons help this bird to grab its prey in the air. These birds are the fastest animals on earth, they can dive through the air at over 200mph. If the initial impact from this bird does not knock out and kill its prey, the beak and talons can help to finish it off.
Making sure the foot equipment is fully functional...
A little floof...
To finish off the process, a shake of the feathers.
Looking good and ready for another hunt.
As we were heading to the car, I saw this flock and gave a pleading look to my husband, asking to go have a look, and he, being so good to me, let me, and I got to have some snow bunting fun before hopping back in the car.
I love how little birds fly. They flap a few times then take on the missile approach, where they bring their wings in and shoot through the air before repeating the flapping. The 4 birds in the upper left corner appear to be on a mission together.
These little Arctic birds winter down here where they can feed on seeds found among the plants that grow on the dunes.
I took some video footage of the massive flock I photographed above, it's not the best, but can at least give you a sense of how amazing it was to be there with this large number of birds in such a small area.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Bird Count 2014

     This annual event began as a sport hunt, people would get onto sides, or teams, and whichever could bag the most birds won! Soon it turned into a count, especially as people became more and more into conserving birds instead of just shooting them out of the sky in large numbers. This count has been going on for 114 years, and this 115th year was my first year participating (I know, seriously).
     I joined one of the Prospect Park teams and we birded mainly the north and north east portions of the park. We began at 7am and continued till approximately 3:30, with lunch at Prospect Park Zoo and a quick break for hot cocoa near the 15th street circle. Otherwise it was a cold, grey day, all day, with some flurries, the high today was 37, so yeah, lots of layers were required!
     Despite the cold and slow morning, I had a really great time with a nice pick-up of good birds in the afternoon, including a rare, lingering clay-colored sparrow to add to my life list.
     I didn't take too many pictures, except when we were within close range, found a rarity, and/or the opportunity arose, so here are just a few snip-its of the day, enjoy!
A female American Wigeon on the waterfowl pond at Prospect Park Zoo, reported on the Lullwater in the Park earlier this week, we were able to locate her in the zoo!
The males are super beautiful and flashy, but despite her more camouflaged approach, her blue bill and mottled head set her apart from the mallards on the pond, she was also much smaller in size, but still easy to loose amounts the 100 or more wild freeloading mallards at the zoo.
Also important to make sure you find all the American black ducks that can easily get lost within a crowd of mallards, as they look very similar to them. The black ducks have a darker body that is well defined from the lighter brown head, complete with a yellow bill, the female mallards have orange bills, then you just have to make sure they are not immature male mallards. 
A mourning dove at the feeder station.
Cardinals added a nice flash of color to the grey day.
Got a sweet little red-breasted nuthatch at the feeders, smaller than the white-breasted, with a redder breast, and a black stripe through the eye. 
And now some blurry photos of the clay-colored sparrow! He was far, yet close, but I didn't want to scare him, being with a crowd of observers.

Can see some nice field marks on him, white mustache, black dot, lots of grey and buffy (clay) color.

Just as interesting as the walk was the post-count pot-luck dinner held at the Boat House in Prospect Park. The data compiled is impressive and really allows you to see trends over the years in bird numbers. It was a really interesting and fun to see what species were all over different parts of Brooklyn. The most impressive was Spring Creek, with the largest species count of the day. Spring Creek evokes a memory of being a kid driving to Brooklyn with my mom, and it stunk, because it used to be a landfill, and every time we passed it we'd yell out "PEE-EWW!" Now its a grassland, full of songbirds, and even  a short-eared owl! We had 123 species for all of Brooklyn, it was pretty awesome!

For a full check list of my 8.5 hours out in the field, here is my eBird list:
And here is some information on the Christmas Bird Count and it's history:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pre Workday Birding

     With the holidays upon us and weekends being occupied by parties any gatherings, I have had to find other times to get out and explore. Before work somehow has worked out well, specifically today, because it was warm, the sun was abundant, giving everything a warm, inviting glow. The bird were also abundant, so many herons, kingfishers hunting, and brant geese filling up the grassy fields.
     I gave Drier-Offerman park a whirl today before work, and it worked out very well, it's only a 10 minute bike ride from where I need to be for the day and it always has great birds to see. Most captivating of all today was a single black-capped chickadee, that little puff of feathers made my visit!
Raccon evidence along the shore of Coney Island Creek at low tide. 
A brant swimming near one of the many barges. The barges were full of herons, perched, scoping out the area.
The majority of the brant were grazing. Geese are grazers, people tend to dislike geese because they then defecate on fields, but we create these ideal all you can eat buffets, so we really do bring it upon ourselves.
Brant with the white stripes on the wings are juveniles, those without are adults.
A pair of American wigeon, the male is on the left and is absolutely gorgeous in his impressive plumage.
Then I found this chickadee. I took a lot of photos of this guy because he just kept doing his foraging among the branches. He never flew off, even as I approached. When I finally did move on, he followed me along the path. His little acrobatics on the twigs were just so wonderful to watch, I just adore these little birds!

A tiny tweezer-like beak for picking the buds on the twigs.

Buffleheads, males to the left, and female to the right. A second female was diving underwater at the time. Males generally look black and white, but at just the right angle, you can see the purple and green sheen they have to their feathers.
I was hoping for a raptor sighting... and then I got a female American Kestrel as I made my way toward my bike. A good turnout of birds for sure, glad to start my week off on a great note!