Saturday, March 28, 2015

A New Adventure: Alley Pond Environmental Center

     I have only visited Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) once before, and it was in 2007, and I had a red-tail hawk sitting on my glove while a politician held some kind of event for some local kids who won awards about projects they did involving birds. I didn't get to really check the place out fully, and always meant to come back. Well, here we are, 2015, and I had the chance to check out the trails and see what this area had to offer.
     Also, it's important to note, it's March 28th- it was snowing when I arrived, I had to wear hat, scarf, gloves, and probably should have done another layer. What was I saying about signs of spring yesterday??
     Enjoy the sights...
From the parking lot of APEC, you can walk out onto a nice boardwalk that takes you out to a tidal salt marsh. It must be an absolute joy to watch this marsh slowly come to life and turn green into the summer and grow tall with grasses!
I am ALWAYS so happy to see cattails. These plants play such an important role in the wetlands, they provide a natural filtration for runoff that might make its way into the waterway they grow along. Cattails are having a tough time against the invasive reed, phragmites.
When these cattails go to seed, they explode this fluffy seed that can take to the air to disperse. Birds use the fluff also to line their nests. 
The cattail nemesis... phragmites.
I love trails that look like they are transporting you into some kind of magical place...
A downy woodpecker was feeding on these little seed pods in this tree. He would dangle upside down to get into each nook and cranny with his little beak.
Another downy takes flight from the area.
I always love finding a new bird! This is a Rusty Blackbird. I was intrigued by it because I knew it wasn't a grackle, because of its short tail, and there were 5 or 7 birds calling, sounding nothing like grackles.
An awful picture, but you can at least see the lovely colors his dark feathers are secretly hiding.
A floofy little song sparrow, hopes that this wintry weather will soon pass.
Surprise sneaky flyover by a red tail hawk!
Little birdie feet in the mud of the salt marsh at low tide.
My first greater yellowlegs of the year. What a lovely, leggy creature they are!

Ever see those yellowlegs get stretched? 
APEC is a very cool place, whether as a family or with a friend, I recommend a visit! It looks like once it turns warmer the trails will really come to life as they green up and more animals start to stir. Go on your own adventure: 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Signs of Spring

     It's the end of March, next week we transition into April and all things pastel colored. The trees are still bare, the skies often grey, and I think most of us are starting to crave springtime. I often find myself "hangry," its when you are so hungry for food you begin to anger easily and lack any sort of patience. Well, I know I am hangry for spring. Thankfully small glimpses are beginning to show, sometimes you see it in the little things, like green poking up from the soil or looking at animals slowly emerging from the woodwork... or South. Small spring signs are all around...
These first three pictures are from some small adventures I took this week, Monday I wandered the middle of Brooklyn with my wonderful coworker/partner is nerdy crime, finding our way to the Prospect Park zoo and main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. I hung out, before meeting up with her in Grand Army Plaza, where I watched house sparrows, pigeons, and the occasional mocking bird. The house sparrows would station themselves on a prime pillar of the Arch at Grand Army and sing about their prime territory. I mean the rent around there is sky high, so he must be doing pretty well in life, I'm sure he could provide a lot for some lucky female. I also loved how these little birds were perched above eagles carved into the granite stone.
Grackles are coming back to the area in large flocks. I did note a lone grackle here and there over the winter, but now they have returned for spring and summer. From afar, they just look like a blackbird, but in sunlight they shine. I love the iridescence they possess, and as always, I'm a sucker for yellow eyes! This Grackle and others were on the duck pond in the zoo, stealing dropped food from the duck feeder machines and foraging for any morsels in the exhibit.
White throated sparrows will soon be seen less and less. These handsome little birds will soon make their way North to reproduce and bring back next year, a new generation to our area.
After leaving the zoo we walked to the Brooklyn Public Library, which admittedly, I had never explored more than running in to use the bathroom! We walked alongside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and saw that the sloping sides were covered in crocus, which always is a great spring sign. These flowers are so beautiful and dainty. They make their appearance for a short time, leaving us all in anticipation for next spring!
Wednesday, before work, I took a stroll along the beach in Coney Island. I love the warm morning sunlight which made that morning walk quite comfortable. Well, except for the random guy swimming at the beach who proceeded to also change his clothes on the beach, that was awkward and made me move quickly away. Some things are only reserved for Coney Island.
On this morning many of the rides in Luna Park were being tested in anticipation of opening, I think this or next weekend! The Wonder Wheel has all it cars installed back on for the season, Coney Island is slowly, but surely, coming back to life.
I walked out onto the fishing Pier just behind MCU Park, where the Cyclones play baseball. I loved this pigeon who was just basking in the morning sun.
A young great black backed gull looks stately on top of a lamppost on the pier.
Two horned grebes were diving and fishing just below the pier. On Tuesday during work when checking out a local marine- I got to see my very first red necked grebe. It was very cool and one to go down in my book! 
 A herring gull is ready for breeding season in his perfectly white feathers and grey wings.
I admit, with winter (slowly) leaving us, I will miss the waterfowl that is about to make its way north... Till next winter, Mr. Red Breasted Merganser!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Catching a Glimpse of the Oystercatchers!

     Today my husband and I went on an Adventure, walking over the Gil Hodges Bridge, crossing from Brooklyn into the Rockaways in Queens. Our destination being Fort Tilden, promising my husband the chance to explore and ascend Battery Harris East, which housed a cannon during the world wars. I was looking not too hard for birds, but if I saw anything, I was prepared.
     After climbing and exploring the layout of Brooklyn with binoculars and maps on our phones, we walked a trail across from Battery Harris East that bring you down to the beach. On the beach we found it was low tide and a few birds were down by the shore. I was pretty stoked to see that my favorite shore bird has returned the lovely American Oystercatcher! I enjoyed grabbing a few shots of these guys before heading back to our car in Brooklyn. Oystercatchers in NY do migrate, not too far south, but into the Southern coastal states, learn more about their migration patterns from the American Oystercatcher Working Group here.
     I love these birds, how they look, and how they behave. I also love when they have their chicks in tow, along our beaches in the summer! Enjoy these charismatic carrot beaks:
I saw originally 2 oystercatchers, and I went around, giving them clearance as I didn't want to disturb them. And of course they took off, but they didn't fly away, they joined 5 more birds in flight and landed back down on the beach. That was pretty wonderful. 
This photo makes me start singing Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town" in my head.
Birds are badass, I love them and admire all they do to survive and create a new generation, successfully. And landing with the waves rolling in makes them look even more badass.
The American Oystercatcher is sometimes referred to as a "carrot beak," for obvious reasons. I love the contrasting black and white of their feathers plus their orange beak and ring around their yellow eyes really make them so bold and unmistakeable among other shore birds. 

This little sanderling was foraging on the rock jetty, originally with the first 2 oystercatchers, clearly, he felt left out and ran to join the group of 7. Little birds might look like tiny little floofballs with stick-legs, but they are tough and can roll with the big birds...
I'm a sucker for those yellow eyes! I'm so glad birds are beginning to come back, especially after celebrating the first day of spring here in New York City with 2-3 inches of wet snow.

Did you also know, sanderlings are expert photo bombers... Oystercatcher is clearly not impressed.
But sanderling has what it takes to roll with the big guys on the beach. Glad to see these gorgeous birds on such a gorgeous full spring day!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

American Woodcock 3.15.15

     I have always known about this lovely little, cryptic bird but had yet to see one until today! And I didn't see one, or two, I saw three, all in my backyard that is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.  When I describe this bird, especially to my husband, I do a funny little dance/strut to remind him of the youtube video a woodcock is featured in.
     Since having never encountered this bird, I didn't know what to expect, having only seen it in pictures, fairly zoomed in with no frame of reference, I didn't know how big or small this bird was. They seemed smaller than I expected- and really well camouflaged, especially since I didn't even see the second one until I accidentally scared it away when walking to get a better view of the first one I spotted. They are beautiful and weird all at the same time, have a look through my lens:
Really, the only giveaway is that large dark doe eye! Cryptic coloration blends this animal seamlessly into the leaf litter that is collected below this tree. The drooping branches provide this bird with barriers to keep predators like hawks out and away and to help break up their shape even more. Honestly would not have seen this bird if I wasn't scanning with my binoculars!
A more zoomed in and cropped image, shows the long bill that is great for probing into the ground to pull out insects, grubs, and delicious earthworms. Woodcocks resemble shorebirds and are classified as such, but live inland in forests and forest edges.
I just love how perfect this animal is among all the leaves!
The woodcock is a true sign of spring, especially for their courtship behavior. The males call out then take flight, wings whistling, flying a bit erratically before plunging back down to the Earth. You can see someone captured it in video, and it's hard to see, because it often takes place at dusk into the night. 

Nature amazes me, and natural selection is breathtaking. Those feathers appear to be hand painted and look just like fallen leaves, the natural world is darn good at being beautiful!
Here is the their individual I spotted, hiding under a bush next to a grave. A little chance for you to appreciate this bird from a  different angle.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday the 13th!

     I don't believe in luck, I just know that things happen. Some good, some bad. I try to find the good in any bad that I encounter, whether it be a long tiring week at work or getting into a traumatic accident, I try to find the good in all. So Friday the 13th never gave me any anxiety, life happens, always and I'm ready for it, what it throws at me, and also at the same time to embrace it. I'm just happy to always be alive, to experience things, and to learn from it all.
     So after a long week of work I am pretty run down, but feeling very accomplished and proud of what myself and my coworker did. I managed to get some rest once arriving home, laying on the couch with daytime talk shows to tire my eyes, but had the itch to explore before all the rain came. So after relaxing I got out on the bike (yes, the bike is BACK in commission after a long icy streak!) and headed out to explore. I got to Bush Terminal Park, but they close at 5PM, so I did some speed birding then packed up and headed to Prospect...
The sun was getting a little lower in the sky, illuminating the waterfowl on the lake. Everyone is always so excited to look at the males, with their flashy colors, but I find something very beautiful about the modest plumage of the females. A female mallard will soon, in the coming months, be leading a pack of little mallard floof-balls along the lake.
I find immature birds adorable, we all had awkward teenage years, consider this that time for birds. As they move from their juvenile plumage into their adult plumage. This male Northern shoveler will soon be a stunner!
I even found a little rainbow while I was out! Now if I start finding leprechauns, I'm calling shenanigans!
I call this the "merganser bloop." Mergansers are diving ducks, that snag fish with their long, serrated bills. They very gracefully dive in a quick flip and disappear with the slightest hint of a splash. In my head, it looks like a "bloop" would be the perfect noise to make every time one makes a dive like this. It is also what half of any observers pictures of mergansers tend to look like. Almost all bloops.
Here is a female common merganser, very beautiful. Notice how far back their legs are set, in comparison to a mallard. Those legs are what she uses to help propel herself on dives. She is sleek and quick on and in the water, but makes for a cumbersome and awkward look on land.
The male common merganser. He is like the sports car of duck. That is a sexy bird, he blends right into the water, like as if he is just part of the normal flow. He is also my above "bloop" culprit.
A mallard drake is illuminated by the early evening light. What a handsome guy. Male ducks as gorgeous as they look are not gentlemen. I won't go into too much detail, but let's just say male and female mallard relationships-- it's not like a fairytale, at all.
Lovely lady common mergansers. They were doing a lot of diving, most likely fueling up as they will be migrating soon back from where they came from before they were here.
A female mallard stretches and flaps her wings, she's so lovely!
A pair of red tailed hawks almost seem playful, like maybe they enjoy touching their toes to the tree tops. I doubt its like running barefoot in grass, but that's it reminded me of.  But this could very well be a breeding pair, and perhaps this is playful behavior, they kept circling and dangling their legs when near to one another.
I don't know if I am ready to say goodbye to the shovelers, they will be heading back North soon. So enjoy them while you can!