Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gannet Watch

     Today I went on a whale watch with Gotham Whale, via American Princess Cruises with a few of my friends and husband. With so many whale sightings in the last 2 weeks, I thought we might fare well. Thankfully the weather and water were on our sides, both tolerable.
     Unfortunately we saw no whales, but I did get my first sight of surf scoters (way far away) and many great views of Northern Gannets. And that's it, unfortunately in viewing wildlife, it's all a gamble (my favorite kind of gamble to take).
     Anyway, here are some okay shots of birds from the boat today...
A common loon
A flock of black scoters
A young Northern Gannet

A surprised young Northern Gannet, who wasn't expecting to swim from a boat.

Bickering gulls were common, we saw herring (one up top), ring-billed, greater black backed, laughing (one below) and Bonaparte's

It was also cool to see gulls hunting and succeeding!

A lovely adult N. Gannet makes a close pass to the boat.

Young N. Gannet
An adult gannet evades our vessel.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Always Scan Through Your Birds

     A good rule to helping you find that needle in a haystack of a bird is to scan through groups of birds, you never know who is tossed into the mix of "regulars."I was out with the family yesterday up in Nyack, NY where we went out to a park to get us outside and out of the house. We visited Memorial Park to get views of the Tappan-Zee Bridge, but parked in the marina lot across from the actual park.
     I left my bird stuff in the car, but had to run back and grab it as I was checking out a large group of ring-billed gulls perched on pilings and swimming in the water and one looked a tad bit larger and seemed to be lacking the usual markings of a ring-billed gull.
     With my binoculars, I could see that we had a "white-winged" gull on our hands, with a smaller bill and not much larger than the ring-billed (and comparison to photos in my birding apps that I have), I identified this bird as an Iceland Gull...
A first winter ring-billed gull up front, and two non-breeding adult ring-billed gulls in the back, but note how the one in the middle is a tad larger with no black markings on its feathers, that's the Iceland gull, in it's first year plumage.
It was very exciting to find and identify this bird on my own. Normally I have gone out to seek these birds after they are reported, but seeing this bird was a great reminder of why I enjoy birding. There is something very rewarding about finding and making an identification on your own with a bird you do not see super often.
It was also really fun to show this bird to my nieces who were with us. I think they had a lot of fun just peering through a pair of binoculars and seeing things close-up.
This bird came up to the shore in front of us for a little bit before going to join the flock of ring-billed gulls as the mobbed the folks ho dump bread off at the park.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

     Happy Thanksgiving!

     I'm thankful for a lot of things. I have a great family, wonderful friends, and the things that matter most - health, love, and happiness.
     I'm also thankful that I get time to do the things I love and share them with you... Here are some cute birds from last week in Prospect Park.

Hope your Thanksgiving is happy and safe!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Quick Break from the Kitchen...

     I volunteered to make a lot of food. I'm Italian, I can't help it, I take after my mother. I also have the day off so, I figured I could totally sneak in some time to see some birds. So after baking an apple pie and sweet potato casserole, and prepping antipasto, I figured I could bird before the roasted squash, my "turkey" cutlets (I don't eat turkey on Thanksgiving, so I make fake ones), and a pumpkin pie.
     I figured to keep it close to home, so I took the car (so that means I did not stick to that close to home thing at all) and went to Bush Terminal Park, as I haven't birded there much and it gets decent waterfowl in the winter and I also went to Bay Ridge, in the hopes of seeing some purple sandpipers, along the Belt Parkway.
     A good showing for some quick outdoor time, zero complaints about these sights...
All was quiet when I walked in to the park, a few Buffleheads and American Wigeon on the water, so I walked to path over past the fields and heard kestrel calls... Angry kestrel calls. The calls were due to the presence of this guy...
A Cooper's Hawk dodges the swoops of this female Kestrel. She was NOT happy that he was in her stomping grounds. And don't let her size fool you, swooping at high speeds with sharp talons and beak, can do a fellow bird in, causing injury.
I don't often get to see Cooper's out in the open, they are usually in trees up high, so this was a treat. Having the Kestrel and Coop in the area explains why I really saw nothing else in the small perching bird department.

I love getting the chance to watch the behaviors the birds exhibit, it's a special treat to see them do their natural thing. And I love watching a little badass like a kestrel hold its ground against a bird that seemed to be 3x's its size. It was also a privilege to observe a Cooper's hawk out in the open.
The Coop eventually flew off, and the female Kestrel settled on the fence of the ball fields, adjacent to where the Coop perched. She gave me some great views. She seems to be proud of her work. Good news for her is that the temps were warm today, I even heard crickets out, so there is some extra little things out for her to eat.
I love how tough she is, yet so delicate, as her feather wisp in the winds off of the harbor. I admire them so much, and they happen to be gorgeous raptors at that.
You can see, in comparison to a chain link, she is not a big bird, a pigeon has more heft to it than a kestrel. They are really amazing little falcons.
eBird flagged me for my report of lesser scaup, but um, here they are, among many bufflehead (middle bird). The best way to tell the difference between lesser and greater scaup are the shape of the head. These birds have a flatter head (the back of their head), while a greater scaup has a "fatter" rounder head shape. The one with the white spot next to its bill is a female scaup.
On my way out, I found the male kestrel. The kestrels are almost always present in this park, lots of open fields with larger grasses to harbor their foods they enjoy, from insects to rodents, to small sparrows.
I admire the male kestrels because they are a sexy raptor, he looks amazing! American Kestrels are easy to tell the sexes apart as they are dimorphic (appear different in color AND size).
In Bay Ridge, I managed to get my purple sandpipers, just two, who seemed to be basking in the sun, very inactive, resting.
Oh, hey! These birds spent a lot of time looking up, probably with an eye out for the resident Peregrine falcons who would surely try to make a snack out of these guys if they could get one.
Also a tough little nugget. These purple sandpipers migrate here, this is their South, as they nest in the far north, the Arctic. So, this is nothing for them, they have the Northernmost winter range of sandpipers, with a winter range of the NE US, into Southern Canada.
This might be my favorite picture I got today, how cool is this little bird that spends its winter on the rocks along NY Harbor, adjacent to the Belt Parkway?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Chasing in Nassau County

     A birder friend of mine and I have been meaning to get a good trip together and so for Saturday, 11.19.16, we pulled together a chase to get some notable birds out in Nassau Co., Long Island. The weather was warm (for November) and we had a full day to get to a few different sites. So we headed out hoping to get some good birds...
Stop #1: Hendrickson Park in Valley Stream, Pink -footed goose. While I already had this bird- my friend did not-- and it is easy enough and reliable enough to make a quick stop for.
It was also nice to see this bird close, in the light, and a smidge more active, with it's head up...
...just a smidge more active.
When not active, it still had an eye on the world.
As a good goose should, the pink-footed is a grazer of plants. The little serrated edges on the beak are not teeth, but helpful if you graze on plants.
Stop #2 was at Lido Beach West. We were hoping to see the Ash-throated flycatcher, we dipped, but got a very late Baltimore Oriole, super vivid and gave the crowd of 20 some good looks. We also enjoyed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch, and house finches here. There were also purple finches there, but I never got a good look.
An extra stop was made at Jones Beach Coast Guard Station, a last minute twitch for a Western Kingbird, reported earlier, dipped on that too. But instead got a show at the sandbar, a very feisty peregrine who gained altitude and went into a stoop, riling up the shorebirds below.
I am angry that with my sub par binoculars (my preferred pair is at Nikon in repair) I couldn't differentiate better between these birds on the shore, I saw the black-bellied plovers (one in the middle with stubbier bill), the dunlin (to his lower right), the sanderlings (not pictured), but failed to notice that there were also RED KNOTS on that sandbar, which is a life bird for me. Dang. Always pay close attention and (if your binoculars allow you to) take a good hard look at every bird.
Red knots (background), BB Plover (middle), and dunlin (foreground). 
And a nice immature common eider, just a lump of the sandbar.
That wedge shaped bill is good for grabbing shellfish from the bottom of the inlet during a dive.
Our only eider for the day was this one- stop #3 at Ransom Beach in Bayville came up empty handed for the female king eider seen there over the last week, but thanks to my friend's scope we both got white-winged scoters for our life list. A good busy day, each of us getting life birds. I look forward to other adventures, birding with friends is always a great time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trinity Church

     So it isn't often I go to church, or ever for that matter, but today a bird brought me to church-- or at least the cemetery alongside of one.
     Trinity Church on Broadway, in downtown Manhattan has been a hang out for a yellow-breasted chat over the last week, almost 2 weeks. I tried to see him Saturday, but the church and its cemeteries open after 8am and I went by before, knowingly aware that the yard wouldn't be open. But you could never get as good of views from the street because while being strikingly beautiful, this bird can easily disappear under your nose and in front of your face.
     I got a few acceptable shots, enjoy:
NOT A CHAT. For the first half hour I was chat-less... just seeing white-throated sparrows (above), a single hermit thrush (who is anything but shy-- it nearly flew into me as a passer-by flushed it off the path), and then pigeons, house sparrows, and starlings.
I ran into another birder (we're easy to pick out from the regular folk), the person who originally found and has been following this Chat. He gave me some pointers on where it usually is and noted its very likely a juvenile bird due to its brownish flanks -- seen better below.
He also thankfully called my attention to it when it arrived!
It's underside glows golden and I realized why I would easily miss this bird from the street. It flies low - landing on headstones and on the fence. It favored two magnolia trees which happen to be the same color as it, so fall foliage was in its favor for camouflage. 
Considered rare, I wanted to look more into why. These birds are not endangered, but they have declined a bit, especially here in NY and their breeding ranges within NY have also become less than what they were historically. So I suppose seeing a juvenile is a good thing, perhaps he didn't travel too far to be here in Manhattan.
There is a small tree in the NW corner of the North Cemetery (Alexander Hamilton is on the South side- the church is in the middle of it all) that this little bird does perch on from time to time, and matches pretty well. So if you're patient and can swing at least 40 minutes to catch this little golden nugget, I recommend a trip to Trinity Church.