Sunday, December 27, 2015

'Tis the Season to be Birding

     I am thankful that I got not only one Christmas, but 4 Christmas' this year, each with a different component of my family. I am also not going to lie, I am also relieved that it is not Christmas for another year, I can cool it on the baking, gift searching, food making, and taking care of life in between it all! I am thankful to have a wonderful family who supports me and that I can support back through the stressful times, especially Tim, my husband, who helped me in some of my biggest baking fits (ever see apples hurled through the air, or bowls thrown out the door? Yeah, he helps me through all that, and has the best ways of doing so, usually with ridiculous humor that makes me more irritated, but also makes me laugh).
     I find it important that when times are stressful that you need to make time for yourself. It's not to be selfish, but it keeps me balanced and clears my mind for a bit. It enables me to be able to be patient and able to support others when times are tough, and for me, getting out for a walk does just that.
     On Christmas eve I made a stop at Jones Beach, leaving early so I would still have ample time to surprise my mom with a clean house (in which I learned that using pledge on a wood floor creates an ice rink-like surface), food prep, and a less stressful evening for herself. The day after Christmas I went on a search for a bird that is not uncommon, but one I have had yet to see here in Brooklyn.
     I hope everyone who reads this-- whoever you are, had a wonderful Christmas, Festivus, or any holiday you may have celebrated this season and I also wish you all a very happy New Year, and a happy 2016 full of nature, wild things, and beautiful scenery! Enjoy!
My first find at the Coast Guard Station at Jones Beach was this little dunlin, totally solo, with a bummed left leg. Clearly still able to find food, as you can see.
Many don't realize most birds at rest, or when trying to keep warm, tuck one leg in, much like a flamingo. Such behavior does not usually indicate injury. This bird, on the other hand, was limping, could barely lift the leg and never put any weight on it. Not going to lie, I tried to see how closely he would let me approach, to assess if he needed help. I got pretty close, and was about to really consider grabbing him up to bring him to a rehabber, but he flew, and flew well, hobbling around might be rough, but he is still able to feed and get away from danger. I wish him luck.

Lots of yellow-rumped warblers among the reeds and brush that grow up to the sand. They were mixed in with a white throated sparrow or two.
I also got to view here many brant (pictured), common and red-throated loons, long-tailed duck, red-breasted merganser, a harbor seal (a nice one to add to my mammal list!), and jet skiiers- did I mention it was in the upper 60's at this point, later making it to 70!
This brant had an exceptionally white throat patch which drew me in for photographing.
Tried to see if a snowy was around, with no luck, but I did get the chance to find some skate egg cases washed up in the sand!
I was also happy to find a flock of 20 or so snow bunting in the west end lot. They are super cute little guys, I love those little cinnamon cheeks!
The day after Christmas, yesterday, I walked the Shore Promenade looking for purple sandpipers. The promenade runs along the Belt Parkway from Owl's Head Park down to the shopping Center at Caesar's Bay. I parked at the Fort Hamilton Exit/Scenic View pull off, just at the base of the Verrazano Bridge and was greeted by many ring-billed gulls.
The rocks along the Promenade provide a place for gulls to rest and preen, like this one, it also traps a lot of icky debris, and oddly provides a perfect habitat for the sandpipers I wanted to find.
After walking a mile from my spot and scanning rocks, just in case, I walked toward an area of the promenade I was told almost always has the sandpipers foraging among the rocks. And right as I got to that area, there they were! I found my first one floofed up, with his bill tucked in resting, with a weary eye on me and the world around him. It's tough being a little bird, always have to keep one eye out for danger- especially with falcons residing nearby.
A group of 7 or so birds were walking and foraging together on the rocks. They are sandpipers, but these birds are much happier on rocks than on sand. They also are not purple, they have a purplish sheen in the winter, but otherwise they are pretty slate-grey.
Their long beak helps them pick crustaceans and snails off the rocks and from in between the algae that grows on and clings to the rocks.This birds spends it summer in the high Arctic and flies South to here, New York and places as far North as Southern Newfoundland! 
I was super happy to spend a good amount of time, observing these birds march up and down the rocks, picking at anything tasty they found, squeaking to one another, all while cars zoomed by along the parkway behind us.
I also had the chance to explore a wonderful little park behind the BJ's Parking lot on Shore Road, spying red-throated and common loon, gulls galore, red-breasted mergansers, and swans. I also ran into one of my birding buddies, Daniel, and we ventured to Calvert-Vaux, where we spied more loons, brant, cormorants, a GB Heron, and  Harbor Seal out in Gravesend Bay.
I also attempted to make a video of two of the birds, this is very zoomed in, so it may be slightly shaky. The noise? That's the parkway behind me. Just another great example of nature carrying on in the most unexpected places!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winter Birding?

     This past Monday, marked the winter solstice, with the shortest day of the year. I took today off for a day to bake, relax, and get together some last minute things for Christmas. I birded in between chores, and despite the incredible fog, managed to get in some good views, and at times very beautiful views as well.
     Although it is officially winter, I woke up at 2am, battling a mosquito, buzzing irritably in my ear, burying myself in my blankets to avoid bites that I still received. I was sweating in a light jacket this morning with temps in the upper 50's, reaching into the 60's today. Tomorrow we are looking to hit 70! This weather is insane, while I love it, it also irks me. By midday a sweatshirt sufficed to go outside in...

A lovely treat to have this female American Wigeon so close to shore to photograph.
The male is super flashy, but the female is such a natural beauty, with the different shades of brown, mottled together, and a little periwinkle blue bill to remind you that she is a wigeon.
I love capturing the red eyes of the American Coot.These birds are very common in winter, but very beautiful and easy to overlook if you don't take a closer look at their little features.

I was able to spot all 4 woodpecker species in my walk today: This Hairy woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, 2 yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and a red-bellied woodpecker.
This Hairy was busy chiseling away at this branch, insects were probably active in the warm temperatures.
A touch of autumn in December.
Foggy lake scenes with Canada Geese.

Flowers still blooming, when this time last year we already have had snowfall.
I paid a visit to a bird who now seems like a washed up celebirdy (see what I did there?). I found him myself, with only myself observing as he fed. Perhaps he was appreciative of some privacy?
I was appreciative of the quiet myself too.

Definitely a little ray of brightness on such a grey, wet day.

Got some shopping done at Caesar's Bay... thought I'd find purple sandpipers, but only found Brant on the rocks.
I did have fun photographing the ring-billed gulls though.
Endless gulls!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Bird Count 2015

     Last year I got hooked, participating in my first Christmas Bird Count. An annual event that used to involve shooting as many birds as one could, the count has now become a wonderful citizen science event where you count every single bird you see, so if you came across 65,972 house sparrows, so be it!
     This year I only got to participate for half of the day, on Saturday 12/19/15, but it was very well worthwhile and fun. Despite the fact that the world finally decided it would be a bit more wintry than it has been. Layers, gloves, hat and scarf were all necessary, as well as the hot cocoa break. I birded with a group in Northern Prospect Park and with a slow morning, the later morning and afternoon picked up as the sun helped to warm the place up a bit.
     Highlights for my portion of the count included some botany 101 with our wonderful group leader and naturalist, Paul, a pair of golden-crowned kinglets, a rusty blackbird, a late hermit thrush, a very late ruby meadowhawk (that is a dragonfly, not something you see in December in New York), and some sassy sapsuckers.
     The preliminary count can be found on the Prospect Sightings Blog, totaling 117 species, so far. I was fortunate enough to grab a few decent shots before leaving to gather with my family for a (very lovely) early holiday celebration, enjoy:
This pair of Yellow-bellied sapsuckers were feeding on berries in the area of the park known as "the Vale."
The two began to squabble with one another, allowing this individual to fly down to a tree just a few feet away from us.

Isn't their plumage just perfect? They bend in so perfectly on the bark of the trees they cling to. 

Moments later we found a few fox sparrows, the Vale was where we finally saw a good variety of birds.
Fox sparrows are one of my favorite, plump, large, and that gorgeous rusty color. They are not rare, but only show up come winter, then disappear by March.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Birding to Work Day

     As we creep into the middle of December, I have to do more adult things, like prepare my annual slew of holiday cookies, clean the house, collect gifts for everyone, cook food for gatherings, attend gatherings, and take care of the everyday things like work, the mini zoo in our home, and the list goes on. So, in order to get my proper dosage of the outdoors, I squeeze it in where I can.
     Yesterday I got to work at the zoo in Prospect so with the convenience of working close to home and park between work and my home, it only made sense to leave early and bird my way to work. It was just enough for me to feel like I made it outside on this very unseasonably warm weekend, while also accomplishing some things I need to complete for the holidays.
I left my home in a sweatshirt and vest, by time I made it to work, I was sweating! With a high in the low 60's, yesterday was more like Early May than Mid-December. By midday I saw insects like flies and bees buzzing about and the night before I had the pleasure of getting 3 December Mosquito bites, including one on my noggin.
I found the most common of park residents made for some stunning pictures today, like this SAmerican coot that seems to be gliding over a fiery lake and looking rather sinister in that charcoal-grey plumage.
I was really happy to see this pair of ring-neck ducks. They weren't to thrilled about anything, at least 40 geese moved their way across the lake past them, not even a lift of the head, just a glaring golden eye while their bills remained tucked away.
A squirrel assesses whether or not it is safe to move from this tree to the next with me standing on the other side of the tree.
2 of the 3 buffleheads just scooting across the lake, diving from time to time in sync with each other.
A ruddy duck caught in the ripples of another diving ruddy.
Stopped to say "hey" to the bunting. See him? Yep, that's how he is a lot of the time, but I couldn't hang around and really didn't want to, because even at 8:15am, he drew in a large crowd.
This mallard just in front of the lakeside pavilion was looking quite dapper, again, found a lot of good stuff in the common, usually overlooked birds of the park.
My favorite photos of the day are this male house sparrow who caught my eye on this old planter/pillar. 
He even posed and made for a great capture to end my walk to work.