Sunday, February 22, 2015

Spring, is That You??

     Yesterday began cold, the day slowly warmed, but today I woke up to 40 degrees. Really?! I don't think we've seen a day above 35 since, maybe, December? Anyway, I welcome the warmth and do so by spending as much time outside as I can. I walked Plumb Beach, then a few areas in Floyd Bennett Field, and completed the day with a 7.6 mile run.
     I walked around today with an unzipped jacket (because I was sweating!), and only two layers of pants, instead of the three I have been wearing lately. I also didn't need to wear gloves or a scarf, but I kept the huge snow boots, and glad I did, because I did a lot of wading through 2-3inch pools of snow melt water, especially on the ex-runways of Floyd Bennett Field. 
     Todays biggest joy was just being comfortable outside, for the first time this winter; it makes me excited for migration and spring!
Plumb Beach... remembering last summer, how I came here to bird, then laid on the sand, put my feet in the water and rode my bike home. I cannot wait to get that back! The snow is pretty to look at, but I'm over it!
Brooklyn Icebergs! Frozen salt water washed up on Plumb Beach.
Even the jetty looks cold.
Unlike the horned larks I saw last week, hunkered down, braving the wind and bitter cold, these guys showed lots of leg and ran all about the scraggly grasses looking for seeds to eat.
A mockingbird greets me at Floyd Bennett.
I have a soft spot for crows. I used to work with a few individuals when I was a zookeeper and they are just as intelligent and quirky as they say, so I love and appreciate crows, ravens, jays, corvids of any kind! This lucky guy found a piece of bread. There seemed to be a pile of dumped loaves of bread right behind him.
I also find crows really beautiful, those wings are gorgeous!

I have seen grackles and crows using a trick to more easily eat hard pieces of bread.
The crow who nabbed the bread must be high ranking in the pecking order of crows, because crows flew by, or watched from trees, no one bothered the bread winner at all.
Hard bread? Put it on west surfaces to soften it up! I have also seems crows and grackles dip stale bread and crackers in ponds to more easily eat them. Heck, even the crows I cared for as a keeper, would dip their food to soften up pellets.
Long time no see, Gray Catbird! So happy to hear your "meow!"
The crows gave up this guy, a red shouldered hawk, was a nice find.
Ring billed gull reflections.
A mixed group of lesser and greater scaup, males and females.
A handsome ring billed gull.
Snow melt provides fresh water, and a communal bath for gulls.
A very handsome greater black backed gull.
Found a solo fox sparrow in the community gardens near the feeders. I love these guys, I will be sad to see them go up North.
It was really nice to see a bunch of butter butts! Yellow-rumped warblers were abundant today. Can't wait for more warblers this spring!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 4 of 4 - Survival!

     The great backyard bird count ends after today. But please, don't let that stop you ever from getting outside and exploring and participating in citizen science!
     Today's frigid adventure took me to Prospect Park which is easily within walking distance from my apartment, and in multiple layers and heavy-duty boots, I was totally sweating by time I made it there!
     The theme for all the birds today was survival. The last few days have been unbearably cold, and while these birds are fine and well adapted for the cold, the cold has not allowed much to thaw, so finding food can be tough when a layer of snow and ice covers the field, the ice covering the lake spreads and thickens, and of course you have to be smart and conserve your energy if food is hard to find. Almost all the birds I saw today were doing what it takes to survive, and it seems like they know what they are doing! Nature is pretty amazing like that.

It may seem counterintuitive to bathe when it is so cold, but feather maintenance can make or break seeing the next day. These birds roost on the ice, which is getting covered in droppings, and in general, dirty feathers are bad feathers. Birds spend a heck of a lot of time preening, feathers need to be kept in tip top shape in order to allow a bird to fly and keep warm. This ring billed gull would dip in the water, splash around then fly a few feet up to shake off the water, rinse, lather, repeat.
At first you'd think that this goose is in grave danger with ice on its feathers, while it is adding some extra weight, the ice is better off there than under feathers. The way birds keep warm is by using the outer feathers like the outer shell of a winter jacket, it repels water and keeps the down feathers underneath (like the liner of your winter jacket) dry. The down feathers are soft and fluffy, allowing air to get trapped in this layer, that air stays warm between the birds skin and outer feathers. So as long as ice isn't forming below these feathers, this goose's feathers are doing what they should be.
I found my favorite goose with the "eyebrows." Birds stick their beaks under their feathers, because that downy layer is much warmer than outside!
Another ring-billed gull takes part in maintaining those amazing feathers!
A female common merganser grabs breakfast and a gull wants in on it. This hen with another hen and a drake have been on the pond for a few days or so now. Mergansers are diving ducks, their long serrated beak helps then grab fish while their powerful feet propel them below the water.
"Eat my dust."
While being in pursuit, she dove under and came back up with her prize. While being chased she continued to swallow the fish whole, amazing!
Down the hatch! Gulls are just trying to survive too. Being opportunistic and willing to eat just about anything you can get your beak on, is an adaptation that helps gulls get through tough times. It's often why you see them around landfills and dumps.
Lady merganser keeps it classy, even after her ordeal.
A male downy woodpecker chips away the outer bark of the branch, looking for insects that may be waiting below for spring's arrival.
The feeders were being taken advantage of by many birds, including this female purple finch.
A white throated sparrow looks floofy, fluffing up feathers can help warm a bird up.
A few brown-headed cowbirds were near the feeder area, all male. Males have the brown head with a black (and iridescent) body. These birds were directly in the sun and therefore super shiny!
The cowbird on the left was singing it whacky sounding song, take a listen and see what I mean. 
A juvenile mute swan  stays warm by floating in the water (which is warmer than the air) and sticking its beak below its feathers.
Not a sign of spring, Robins have been here all winter long. I bet though this bird is starting to crave worms and insects more so than the berries it has been surviving on for the winter.
A flock of American goldfinch were foraging on sweet gum seedpods. 
Their little beaks are perfect for picking out the seeds, finches, the poster child of survival.
Hope everyone had a lovely weekend or birding during the Great Backyard Bird Count! Now, its time for blankets, cocoa, and hibernation after the last few days!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 3 of 4 - ICE ICE BABY!

     I took a trip with some wonderful work friends, both of past and present, and like true lovers of wildlife and wild places, we put on multiple layers and got on a boat to see what is also braving the cold on the Hudson, within New York Harbor.
     We took a trip on NYC Audubon's winter bird and seal eco cruise. The seals must have went to Florida or seemed warmer climes, because we didn't see any, and we were the only silly mammals out near Hoffman and Swineburne Islands, just past the Verrazano Bridge. The water is currently warmer than the air, so seals must have kept warm by staying below the surface. It was so cold, in fact that salt water was freezing! We braved temperatures that did not go above 20F and wind chills much lower, as we experienced, easily 20mph, if not higher gusts of wind- an Arctic adventure in NYC!
We embarked on our trip from South Street Seaport and headed South out to the harbor.
Forming ice stretched from Governor's Island to the ferry terminals in Southern Manhattan!
A double crested cormorant seeks refuge on a pier with ring-billed gulls off Governor's Island. 
From Red Hook Brooklyn's Erie Basin- sailing through the ice was pretty cool, the boat actually bumped as it clanked against the double hulls of the catamaran.
We found waterfowl like Brant (here), red breasted mergansers, mallard, black duck, bufflehead, and gadwall seeking shelter from the wind and cold within Erie Basin.
Lady liberty reminds us that we are in NYC, not the Arctic.
Just looking over the side of the boat!
One of many Falcon nest sites in NYC. It's early for falcons to be nesting, but they may be making their way back to their usual territories to reunite with their mate.
You don't truly understand how large the Verrazano Bridge is until you go below it!
A terrible photo, but important, the bird flying above the horizon is a common goldeneye- my first in NYC, so that was exciting! The flock below are greater scaup.
An icy Hoffman Island- too icy apparently for seals to haul out on.
Just in case you didn't know, salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water. Also water in general has a specific heat of 1, which is high, which means it holds its warmth or cold fairly well despite the changes in air temperature (it's why your cup of tea seems to take forever to cool off)- so that means, it has been so gash darn cold lately that the water temp is dropping enough to freeze into ice near the surface and it is so gosh darn cold that salt water is freezing when it crashes up onto the rocks and pilings. So all this ice on the salt water you have seen from previous photos to here means bundle up, it's cold out there!!
With all the wind and movement, a young herring gull gets the best photo of the day, especially because it made a close pass to the boat.
A little eared grebe is dwarfed by waves and icy rocks- but really shows you how tough as nails these birds are. They are amazing at surviving, this little dude is probably still out on the water while I sit in my warm, heated home- makes me look like a wimp! Keep on being awesome, little dude!
The winter eco cruises will fun a few more trips for the winter- maybe you will get to see a seal on your trip, and maybe it will be a few degrees warmer for you too! Check their website out for more info and happy birding as the Great Backyard Bird Count continues for one more day, tomorrow!