Sunday, November 30, 2014

Prospect Park 11-30-14

     Today, with mild temperatures, reaching into the mid 50's, I had to get out for a walk. In the low morning sun, everything was bright and warm. The lake in Prospect is starting to fill up with waterfowl and gulls, it's a very active place. Most of the trees have dropped their leaves and a feel of winter is in the air, well, maybe not so much with the current temperature. I already miss summer, very much, but I look forward to the species winter brings to us from much colder places further north.
     One thing I do look forward to in the winter in Prospect Park is the feeder station on Well House Drive, maintained by the Brooklyn Bird Club. It become a gathering place for many bird species looking to nourish themselves with food that is getting harder to find as we move into December. Feeders when properly maintained and filled can be vital to helping species survive the winter, especially as habitat may be limited.
      Enjoy today's sights from Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY:
A mallard basks in the sun on the lake shore.
Northern shovelers are abundant on the lake from now till spring. They feed by swirling in a group on the water, stirring up invertebrates, plants, and anything else edible. I love their gold eyes keeping a lookout while they submerge their bills. 
Females are easy to tell apart from the males, males have the green heads, females take on a more camouflaged look --BUT in this picture, these are all males! The brown birds are immature males. Male shovelers have golden eyes, females have darker, brown eyes.
American coots are pretty abundant as well.
This juvenile mute swan approached very closely, clearly fed often by people. Normally these birds can be pretty aggressive and normally don't approach people, unless chasing them off their territory or away from their cygnets...
Male and female shovelers- note the difference in eye color.
A female purple finch, the male is where this species gets the "purple" from.... see below.
A female purple finch joins an american goldfinch (right) to feed on thistle seeds at the feeder station. 
The male purple finch. There's the purple that gets them their name.
Foraging white-breasted nuthatch. 
Many species may not go directly to the feeder itself, but species like this white throated sparrow,  mourning doves, nuthatches, and some red winged blackbirds find their niche below, picking up fallen seed from the feeders.
I love the red eyes of the American coot!
Swans feed on aquatic pants, they use their long necks to reach down deep under water to get to those plants.
This swan acquired an oak leaf brooch on its last dip under the surface.
Ducks are not as nice as they appear, this scuffle went on for a while, the mallards made a high pitched whistle that sounded almost like a hawk. At first I thought a hawk in the area caught a duck, but it was 3 or 4 male mallards ganging up on one male, on the right. 
A ruddy duck, a diving duck, paddles from the lake onto the lullwater. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brooklyn is for Lifers! Cassin's Kingbird!

     I admit it, I have been not out as much as I used to, but that will happen when you finally find employment! I will also admit, I have been out birding a few times and for got to blog about it. So a few highlights of what I had seen...
Kaiser Park is right in Coney Island, right where I now work, so I am trying out pre-work birding... Ring billed gull
These brant were born this year and have made their first migration to the area. Welcome!
It was a gloomy morning, but the rays of light were perfect!
I thought this was at first a peregrine, but now me thinks Merlin.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner, for this gull.
Last week I went out (in the COLD!) to Plumb Beach, got to see a few sanderlings, like this guy. Cute, right?
Found this one sanderling, who was going about his life with one leg! Amazing to watch him hop around, foraging, and then flying when he needed to really move.
Quite a few Dunlin feeding in the mix too.
     Today had taken me to a brand new location I somehow never explored, Floyd Bennett Field. This place is huge, and honestly, I had my phone out a lot mapping where I was to avoid getting myself lost. It has some unique habitat that isn't available in many other spaces around Brooklyn, specifically the vast grasslands that make up the interior of the fields, between the runways of the past. I had a Brooklyn first for myself, Eastern bluebirds, which very much favor those open grassy habitats. Although according to eBird, they shouldn't be hanging around much longer. I also had another first for myself, but its a second for New York State, Cassin's Kingbird. A native to the Southwestern US, this guy wandered way off course and has been hanging around at Floyd Bennett. I knew the bird was here, and had no intention of seeking it out- which tends to always work out for me.
     Brooklyn has proven to be a place where I have seen birds that I have never ever seen before elsewhere and also apparently a good place to see birds that I would normally have to go out of state for, or in the case of the wheatear, out of the country for. Enjoy!
I don't have gigantic, huge lens like some birders do, so this is a pretty well cropped photo with one of the few Eastern bluebirds I observed today.
Made eye contact with a chickadee, foraging on the phragmites. There are a series of nature trails to walk on the Northern parts of the field, that's where I found this little guy. 
The trails are heavily invaded by phragmites reeds...
Some of the trails lead out to a basin where you can see the drawbridge that is on the Belt Parkway. Much of the beach was worked by gaggles of brant.
A ring-billed gull takes off in the surf, produced by a passing boat.
I walked the runways to get back to my car, past the (vary loud) model airplane area, and a Mockingbird greeted me on my walk.
The shrubs along the runway were full of berries attracting cedar waxwings (seen here, note the waxy red on the wing- hence the name) and American Robins, which will stay for the winter and still be here in the spring.
Sometimes nature is so majestic, like this gluttonous waxwing shoving a berry down its throat.

As I headed back to my car, I ran into a birder who told me I should check out the community garden to see the Kingbird--- just as my phone died and I no longer had a map. So let the adventure begin...
The fields, and much of the areas along the waterways out towards Queens are managed by the National Park Service, as a part of the Jamaica Bay ecosystem. It is unfortunate to have (frequent) sightings like this. Feral cats are a huge issue for birds and other wildlife, I love cats, have one myself, but allowing cats to reproduce and freely roam, has had some major impacts on wildlife!
And cue, Cassin's Kingbird!
I have seen kingbirds, in the Western states, and kiskadees, a relative that frequents Central America, but it's a nice treat to see a Western species of kingbird here in the East!
I think this one gets the "photo of the day." Late afternoon sun on those wings spread wide!
This bird was moving a lot, and it did look to be nabbing insects, that actually were buzzing a bit today! One thing that did upset me is that many folks were watching, with large cameras - that make mine look like amateur hour. I know those lenses get a much closer look than mine (I crop/edit my photos, FYI ) and they got fairly close, and would pursue. I moved too, but minding your distance is important to allowing these birds to act naturally without stressing out, eventually he did leave the area, and I took that as a cue to leave him be, but folks with their equipment followed in search.
One last look through the trees at this handsome little bird!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Charismatic Cormorants

     Cormorants are one of my favorite birds- I have a lot of favorites, but I do adore these birds. They are just so funny looking, with their odd webbed feet that they can perch with quite well, their snake necks, and feathers that appear almost scaly. My favorite feature are their icy blue eyes, you don't notice them unless you are viewing them fairly up close.
     I used to work with a double crested cormorant and he was just such a ham, playing with your cleaning tools, tossing them in the air and catching them, like it would with a fish. If you are lucky enough to hear them, they have this guttural belch-like call, giving the cormorant I used to work with the name "Excuse Me."
     I saw quite a few birds today and tried out a new app on my phone that syncs up to ebird, making tallying and accurate counts easier. It also adds numbers for you, you just input the data. The app is called BirdLog NA, it cost a small amount, but all you need is an ebird account (free) to use it and get started.
     Of all the birds I saw, the cormorants were the most photogenic, and quite few of them congregated on the lullwater, actively coming up from dives with fish, tossing them about to position them before sending it down the hatch.
Sitting in the morning sun, and oh, those eyes!
There are some large piles of sandy soil on well house drive, just up from the picnic tables and next to some containers, the piles are active with birds. Small puddles form and birds bathe and drink, they land on the mounds of soil in full view, just standing here I viewed 9 species of bird on or around these mounds, including this hermit thrush.
My first Brooklyn red-shouldered hawk. It's a very cropped photo, but the white crescents near the tips of the wing are a field mark that is characteristic of this migrating buteo.
Seeing double double crested cormorants on the lullwater!

The ruddy ducks tend to stay far from the lake shore, but this little female was close, diving and resurfacing only about 7 or 10 feet from the shore line.