Saturday, January 31, 2015

More Arctic Birds in the BK

     Last weekend, a snowy owl at Floyd Bennet Field brought a little Arctic flare to Brooklyn, but reports have been coming in for the last week, week and a half about another Arctic visitor, an Iceland gull.
     People usually don't give much thought to gulls, that are often labeled across the board as "sea gulls." But not all gulls live by the sea, they can be found many many miles from it, they can live near freshwater, brackish water, and near salt water. And my favorite kind of gulls are the ones that live on bays, they go great with some cream cheese and lox. (See what I did there??)
     So the everyday people just see "sea gulls," but if you take a closer look there is more than meets the eye. I will say, generally, gulls have a very similar appearance among them regarding shape, coloration, and behavior- and heck, sometimes even sound. They even vary within their species, because they way they look can tell you approximate age, and if you aren't paying attention to the weather, the season, based on their plumage.
     The Iceland gull, while very different looking, in a birders eye is admittedly hard to first spot when the birds around it are in general, similar. But once you find it, you can't stop thinking how much this gorgeous bird stands out from the crowd.
     Oh yeah, and YAY, this one is a lifer for me! This gull gets a mark in my book.

WARNING... a lot of pictures of gulls ahead...

Guls overhead and all around! Juvenile ring billed gull.
1st winter Iceland gull- if you'd like to understand plumage terminology- I found this helpful.  
Iceland gull flying by at eye-level.

It felt like Iceland. The wind was blowing and the temperatures took a plunge today. I was wearing three layers for pants, double layer socks, with my super-duper winter boots. Glad I made such choices. Salt water requires lower temps to freeze, so here you have it, frozen salt water in Gravesend Bay proves it was darn cold out there!
Brant flying in to rest on the bay.
Ring billed gulls - compared to the Iceland have black markings on wing tips and tail, also they are smaller in size.

Oh yeah, this is also where I am birding from. Very unassuming, a shopping center, Caesar's Bay Bazaar in Bath Beach.
Many flyovers by Canadian geese.
Iceland Gulls do come from Iceland, but the gulls from Iceland migrate to Europe. This Iceland gull probably originated in the high Arctic in NE Canada. They migrate south but spread themselves out very sparsely, so they are considered a rare sight for the area.
More info on Iceland gulls can be provided here, via Cornell.
These gulls, including the Iceland, are omnivores, but uncooked rice and rice cakes are on today's menu. These food items are not recommended for wild birds.
Scoping out competitors for food.

I approched a few folks and spoke to them why spreading bread, rice, and other "human foods" are bad for wildlife. Half these foods aren't really good for us. Also, if these foods are past date, or lay around gathering mold, it can lead to birds getting Asper, a fungal infection that will kill. The DEC provides plenty of reason why feeding birds bread and table scraps are not good- specifically to waterfall - but this goes for all.

This provides an excellent chance to see the Iceland gull compared to a juvenile (right) and adult (bottom) ring-billed gull. The Iceland is much larger, even though it is further away, also no black markings on feathers, a thicker bill that seems shorter too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blizzard? What Blizzard?

     Today I was given a snow day as NYC expected the worst from the snow we received last night. After dumping only about 4-6" I had a free day and had a few things I wished to accomplish. I wanted to bake cookies, and I did, peanut butter chocolate chip, without a recipe, which for me, is daring. Next I wanted to make and freeze some tomato sauce so we could have a few dinners of pasta in the coming month, I made 4+ dinners worth. Winning!
     The last thing I wanted to do today was get out for a hike, especially once the snow stopped. So by 1PM I layered up, 3 pairs of pants, 1 layer being thermals and the outer layer being snow pants. 4 layers up top, my awesome orange hat, gloves, scarf, and amazing heavy duty snow boots. I worked up a sweat, so I think I did well!
     The park was packed with children and their adults who all had the day off. I skipped past the crowds (well, not literally, I can't skip in so many layers) to see the park residents doing what they do best, surviving. In total I saw 27 bird species, many of which were at the feeder station. The birds looked so beautiful in the snow and I'm glad I got out to see them!

My walk to the park takes me along Fort Hamilton Parkway to the Circle. I pass below an overpass at E 8th Street, and I saw this pigeon and a tint wing next to it, and I heard baby bird "cheeps." This pigeon had 2 chicks, one in the nest behind her, and the little guy, peeking up in front of her. Baby pigeons are a little awkward looking, but I adore them! I also didn't know pigeons would nest and hatch out chicks in the midst of winter, but I suppose they eat well enough to support a family.
A Northern shoveler drake, knows he looks good. Those golden eyes are awesome. I personally might be biased, our family parrot has similar gold eyes, so I'm a bit of a sucker for other birds with similar traits.
This Northern shoveler hen has an itch that just has to be attended to. I love getting the view of what her bill looks like from underneath.
I have heard there was a Canadian goose with white markings that resemble eyebrows from a friend of mine. Well, look who made an appearance, and I do love those unique markings! I love seeing some interesting individuals among 'the usuals."
This drake and hen mallard appear to be amorous. And actually right now ducks are in full swing "sexy" mode. Males are showing off via various courtship display and males are in their flashy breeding plumage to win over females. Ducks are not as nice as they appear during courtship and mating, but this picture makes them appear so sweet, especially when you anthropomorphize- sometimes it's just hard not to!
A snowy Lookout Hill.
At the feeders that are stocked by the Brooklyn Bird Club a variety of bird in just a small space. In this photo alone there is a song sparrow, closest on the left, a dark eyed junco (in the middle with his floofy bum to us), a male (red) and female (olive) Northern cardinal, a fox sparrow (facing us, in front of the male cardinal), and white-throated sparrow (everything else).
I really like the fox sparrows, there were three at the feeders, and many were fairly close, feeding below the nearest feeder.
How do you know if your LBJ is a fox sparrow? Well, they are more of a reddish/rusty brown, they have grey on their faces and shoulders. They have markings on their breast, but they aren't necessarily streaky or forming a line.
A red breasted nuthatch and white breasted nuthatch on the same tree! Red breasted are much smaller, and as their name implies they have a red breast. They also, in addition to their black cap, have a black streak through their eye. 
The red breasted nuthatch was not shy and came over to the thistle feeder, which is closest to the fence that separate the viewing area from the feeder space.
Working out a seed with that funny little tweezer beak.
Blue jays being blue jays, I love that color though, but they are pains in the butt at the feeder, not just for each other, but other bird species. 
A white throated sparrow, easy to see the unoriginality in naming this species. Why not yellow browed sparrow?
A black capped chickadee eyes the feeders and looks to make a move.
The chickadee shares the thistle feeder with a female house finch.
A song sparrow, I find these guys to be a pain because they are so variable in their appearance. When you think you found a new sparrow species for yourself, you end up figuring out it's another song sparrow.
The Lullwater meets the Lake off "Pink Beach," which is currently white.
A resting red tail hawk on the side of Lookout Hill.
Saw my new friend on my way out. 
Enjoy the snow, be safe, and stay warm!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Snow Before The Blizzard

     Today I headed out to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY in hopes of seeing the only kind of snow I like to see in the winter. Lucky for me I did have that chance and especially before we get hit with an actual blizzard come tomorrow. Thankfully I got to enjoy todays walk especially because the sun was warm and I was comfy in all my layers and because I got to see what I had hoped to!
First glimpse of snow...
A snowy owl, my first of 2015 and my first in Brooklyn!
I'm pretty far from this bird, these photos are heavily cropped after using a 70-300mm zoom lens. Snowy owls have been known to show up at Floyd Bennett Field, these grasslands provide the perfect wintering habitat, similar to the open tundra they normally inhabit during the spring, summer, and fall months.
Last year snowy owls showed up in huge numbers in a phenomenon called an irruption, birds were seen far down south, even as far as the Carolinas. It was predicted that this year, we may still see large numbers following last years irruption. I have had the pleasure of seeing snows last winter (Dec 2013) and the winter before (Feb 2013).
A little snowy owl, dwarfed by the Verrazano Bridge and the Belt Parkway right behind the fields.
A puddle could be so important as a source of freshwater, when all you are surrounded by is saltwater. A mockingbird quenches its thirst.
Winter berries help to keep these mockingbirds and many other species alive and nourished through the winter.
This herring gull think berries are overrated and scored a chicken nugget somewhere.
An hour later and snowy was still staying put.

Super duper cropped photo. With all the barring on this bird, this could be a juvenile or female bird.
Along the edges of the field the snowy owl was sitting pretty in, a pair of American kestrels were actively hunting. This female was taking a break and scanning the field.
Checking me out, or at least I'd like to think we are both observing each other...
Some wind swept feather action.
This bird was easy to capture in flight because kestrels hunt by hovering and soaring in place while checking out the ground below. This bird stayed put, hovering for quite a few seconds.