Sunday, October 29, 2017

While everyone else was out chasing a greenshank...

     I was contemplating going to see the Greenshank in NJ yesterday, but driving solo for a long ride, I was so not into it. So I said, screw it, and went in the opposite direction to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge instead. And honestly, I'm glad I did, I saw the photos of the traffic jams, everyone clambering to see one bird. The reason I enjoy birding is the solitude, and to get away from the big crowds.
     While there were quite a few birders out plus a giant camera/photo group, it was totally not crowded. I enjoyed seeing 50 species that I found with just my own pair of eyes and enjoyed both East and West Ponds. I was happy that East pond is still accessible to walk around, and my boots came in handy for that.
The pond has transitioned from shorebirds to ducks. In this photos, you get the impression of what its like, picking through he HUNDREDS of birds flating around. How many species can you find? Can you see the American wigeon, ruddy ducks, gadwall, N. shoveler, Canada geese, great blue heron, Green-wing teal?

The pond was inundated with Gadwall, but pick through and you can be rewarded-- standout group of male wood ducks and in the upper right, a male green-wing teal with its cinnamon head slashed with iridescent green.

Had a pair of swamp sparrows lead me through the phragmites trail to the mud flats.

A group of pectoral sandpipers still held on to the area, feeding and resting among the 6 birds in the group.

With the fall phrags and the blue sky and water, even the Canada geese are worth taking a longer look than usual at. As I admired this group, I noticed waves of waterfowl and cormorants taking flight. What's happening? Who is here? Why is everyone getting frantic?

That'll do it.

This gorgeous, mature bald eagle flew low, juuuust above the trees making every bird on the pond take flight. Almost like he was just enjoying the ability to have such power to make these other animals act in such ways.

A group of sandpipers flies of in the distance. I suck at ID in flight- so I have no idea what they are. But seeing this eagle was a real treat- so low, so close - I have never seen a bald eagle at the refuge, and a mature one is a treat! I have seen eagles in the NYC area, this would be my second time in Queens.

Look for that white crescent and long bill on that face and you've got yourself some blue-winged teal!

Always present on the pond, the non-native mute swans. I will admit, I enjoy watching them fly. Take off require such effort- and with every flap you hear the sounds that accompany each beat of the wing. It is impressive, still, every time.

I also enjoy watching large waterfowl land. They literally need a runway, like a 747, it takes some serious landing gear and brakes to stop them. Webbed feet create great resistance to slow them down as they touch the water. I love how this birds feathers also look like ripples of the waters surface. But truly, they are showing how wings work and how the air flowing over them and under them create the lift, drag, and all the things needs to be a master of flight.

Now that the west pond is sealed up, I was looking forward to seeing how birds have taken to it. Not as much variety as the East pond-especially as the West still may be brackish. Having these freshwater ponds, surrounded by the salty bay- it makes for superb habitat. The bay is productive, waters are not rough, there is food. Then fresh water available nearby on top of that-- a serious bonus for these birds!
East pond had black bellied plovers (who in winter only have black wing pits), dunlin, shoveler, and brant mostly.

After looping the West pond- I saw a large dark figure-- definitely a raptor. Closer look was now my second bald eagle ever at Jamaica Bay- an immature bird circling high over the East side. This is super zoomed in and cropped. 

The feeders behind the visitors center are always good for house finch.

After visiting the East Pond, then the West Pond, I went back to the East pond to visit Big John's Pond and the blinds and over looks. I was treated to a group of 9 fish crows at the traffic crossing. I LOVE corvids, I of course greatly admire the intelligence and their behavior.

These birds were up to something. Was it coincidence that they came over after I pressed the traffic signal to cross the road?

Did they plan this? Did they know? There are reports of crows waiting for traffic signals to change to do exactly this-- consume someones discarded (I think it's a quesadilla) snack. Here they are in the bike lane-- which is a bit more protected.

The ones eating seem younger- as they appear to have the remains of their pink gapes on the sides of their mouth. A bird did stay up on a pole-- was that an adult watching? Teaching them this? Supervising?

They dashed when traffic started up again, but came back down as it cleared. They were very focused on getting the prize inside the bag. In birding, I love watching behavior. I love seeing what birds do, how they figure things out, how they get what they needs, and its rewarding in the rare- but even still and sometimes more so in the common birds.

A ruddy duck to close out. Despite skipping the rarity in NJ, I was pretty happy with my day out.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Brooklyn Birdy Day

     After working 7 days straight with only one weekend day off the week before AND a stupidly bird-tastic day yesterday, while you were stuck at work... birding all day today was the perfect remedy to my troubles. (And seriously, if those are my troubles, I'm really lucky for something so silly to be my biggest woe!)
     I birded a few different places today-- none of which were super birdy. Butterflies were abundant, I noticed at least 5 species, looking for the fast path southward. And while I didn't see a lot of little birds- I saw 6 species of raptors, which I am very okay with- I love BOP's and I love big birds better anyway!
     I began my day at Green-Wood Cemetery, then hopped over to Bush Terminal Park, then south to Calvert-Vaux Park, and last, Floyd Bennett Field...
Green-Wood's Dell Water had more frogs than birds...

1 of 3 species of raptors I saw in GWC... a merlin!

Made a few slow passes over the Crescent Water-- the same spot I accidentally flushed a Cooper's Hawk (#2) from a tree.

The third species of raptor I saw at GWC was this little guy (also out of focus), a Sharp-shinned hawk. It had with it a kill, nearly it's own size-- a Northern Flicker. I found this bird and most of the raptors in GWC because of all the blue jays mobbing at one tree. Blue jays made it easy to find stuff.

I will say, one of the best parts of GWC was this little Eastern Towhee who sat, vocalized a bit at me and just had a staring contest.

Towhees are sparrows, despite them looking drastically different- note the bill shape, and their behavior, then you start to see the sparrow in them. They are easy to find, not from their color- because they are usually on the ground, hiding-- but their very distinct call, a hoarse "drINK, drINK" where it goes from low to high pitch for the "INK!"

At Bush Terminal Park, I saw not a whole lot. But most of what I saw were butterflies-- I tallied 6 species: Monarch (seen here, and very abundant!), Great Spangled Fritillary, Common Buckeye, Cabbage White, Clouded sulphur, and Painted Lady.
This is the only photo I got from there, haha!

At Calvert-Vaux, I enjoyed my final sights of a great egret- soon they will be gone till spring.

On overcast days, it's really hard to get contrast or sometimes, you get too much contrast as you get serious back-lit photos... but seriously, dude-- could ya move over like 2 feet?

Raptor species number 4: Red-tail Hawk!
This guy was perched on one of the barges in Coney Island Creek with a kill. It was being harassed by 2 American Crows. Well, apparently the ol' corvid tactic of taunt and scream worked (blue jays and crows- they are in the same family and they are loud mouths, mobbers, and incredibly intelligent).
ANYWAY- I never ever get sick of red-tails I appreciate their fearlessness and adaptability to an urban environment. They will make a kill 10 feet away from people in a park, nothing really stops them-- except poisoned prey. This bird does have a rat, which I assumed it got in Kaiser- the beach is literally running rampant with rats. Rats are often fed poison that in turn, works its way through the food chain-- poisoning the predators as well. I hope this bird nabbed a clean rat.

With a mostly full crop, a few crows are not going to cause this bird to give up its prey. With the rat's naked tail and entrails flying through the air, this bird just exudes 100% badassery. Flying up Coney Island creek, this red-tail in turn flushed the egret (previous) and two great blue herons. The egret then even went after the hawk-- just to give it a piece of its mind.

A perfect bird!

Keep on being awesome, red-tail!
(and please eat a few of the mammal pictured below!)

A gorgeous painted lady!

This little clover flower was barely 2 inches tall- butterflies would utilize literally any flower they could find. In walking through the grass I would flush up monarchs, buckeyes and sulphurs as they were using even the smallest blooms in the grass, like covers to feed.

We had a stare down and I shoo'd this guy off. In addition to the cat I found a make-shift cat shelter in the grasses, where I have found a cat shanty town in the past. The clipped ear denotes that this is a cat who has been fixed and released, and most likely- tended to-- all of which which doesn't help the wildlife in the park-- or the people too, as cats carry toxoplasmosis, and are vectors for the rabies virus.
For the love of all things good and ecological-- keep cats indoors!

Raptor species number 5, an American Kestrel!

Onto my last site- Floyd Bennett Field. Where I was finally seeing some numbers of sparrows, almost all Savannah.

But then...

I noticed in flight one looked different from the others. Got this guy up in a tree-- AND FINALLY- a Vesper Sparrow!
A life bird-- and one I have been chasing for a while (when I could).

This bird automatically ranks up there on the cute scale-- white eye-ring really helps. The white eye-ring also is a field mark that helps in identifying this bird.

This bird and all the Savannah Sparrows were in the grasses and honestly, I didn't even see them when I walked through- I felt like such a dingus for spooking them up as I moved along in the direction I was headed-- but I suppose that is just a testament to their camouflage-- these little guys disappear into the brown, yellow, and tan grasses-- even the shortest parts!

Also rewarding-- was finding this bird by myself, alone, not having anyone else point it out to me. Also, sometimes looking for a rogue sparrow is like searching for a needle in a haystack-- especially if it is a species you never saw before. Because soon you are trying to turn every bird into the one you are looking for (bad, BAD habit!), and also-- they are all similar in size, color, and pattern- streaks, stripes, malar or no malar mustaches--- but then when you finally see it-- I was all ready to do a binoc drop and go home.

Bird flew off in my final frame-- but this blurry picture gives you the impression that tipped me off-- those white edges on the tail. The Savannah Sparrows do not have that, so when I saw birds fly up and away- I noticed that and then pursued.

But I couldn't put my binocs down yet because I had a beautiful hunting show by this raptor (number 6), a Northern Harrier. It systematically scanned the fields in flight. I LOVE these birds- and I really love the female plumage- the looks like a cross between an owl and a hawk- with that facial disk- they have an amazing look to actually help them hear-- just like owls! But with slender wings, body, and tail-- these birds are just exquisite. I spent some time admiring this bird.

And still the show isn't over-- at the end of Archery Road at FBF, there were 2 great cormorants!

Larger in size, and sporting that white on their throat- they were easy to distinguish for the many double crested cormorants also perched with them.

Great is on the left... I know it's in the foreground-- so ignore size-- but just look at the build of their two heads. The great cormorants head and bill feel much bulkier.

And I had to pull over for this massive (mixed) flock!

Mostly brown-headed cowbirds and a sprinkling of European Starling.

I could watch bird fly all day... but it got to 4pm, and the clouds were rolling in thick and I took the cue to go home. A pretty decent day- no complaints!