Friday, February 23, 2018

Birding Pittsburgh, PA.

     I made a rip out to Wheeling, WV last week for the chance to develop professionally for work. It was a whirlwind of a week, but I rewarded myself with a little extension to visit and meet with folks at some facilities in Pittsburgh and I found a place to go birding.
     Staying in the downtown area, I was able to locate a park that by uber was about a $10-15 ride. The park, Schenley Park, like most of the area, has trails cut into the hillside that run next to small creeks, trickling with water. And spanning the park, were lots of bridges. Pittsburgh has a very interesting topography and everything is hills, bridges, and rivers. Just on the edge of the park are the Carnegie (which I learned pronounce it very differently from the natives) Museum of Natural History and the Phipps Conservatory (which I visited for a warm up and for a little bit of vibrancy).
     My target species was the Pileated woodpecker as I saw them reported here on ebird and bonus would be a Carolina Chickadee (which I did see and hear -- the hearing confirmed it). Thankfully, the unseasonably warm weather helped me out and I had a nice few hours in the park.
This place must be a dream during migration, with paths up high, you can be eye level with the budding tree tops and see all the warblers without getting a case of "warbler neck."
This park was really big, I was told safe, although I still often felt alone until an occasional runner came by. The hills surrounded you, and while there were quite a number of people in the park, you didn't really see them until you rounded a bend.

Birding was tough here. Some spots were barren and others productive. There were railroad tracks through part of the park and thats where I saw the most, in the shrubs and thicket right at the edge of the fairly mature forest.
But, since it's winter, nothing has leaves and looking for brown birds in brown, twiggy thickets on an over cast grey day-- you have to follow sounds and ID a lot by ear, which I did.
Song sparrows were singing stop perches, making it feel like spring is on the horizon.

A nice large (I presume) female red tail hawk. She was perched in the trees next to a soccer field and then flew over to the next hill.

Th epark was busy with nuthatches and woodpeckers, heard them more than saw. Caught one look at a white-breasted nuthatch, otherwise I mostly listened to them.

My bigfoot-esque capture of the pileated. At first I was only hearing it, they have a very distinct call, almost little loud and obnoxious. And when I saw a low flying large bird with that flash of red, I was pretty happy to know I got one.


I took a break from the grey, monotone scenery - overcast days are beat - visited the conservancy and then took another hour to just see if anything else was around. The bird activity at that point was low or mostly song sparrows.
And then the wildlife started watching me.

Two of the three pairs of white-tailed deer eyes on me. It was also super creepy as they all came up to the edge and walked toward me. To myself I though, oh, I wonder if someone feeds them and they think I have food OR these deer are going to eviscerate me with their cloven hooves and no one will know and this is how it will end.

Thankfully, we both just kinda observed each other and made funny faces.

I like finding deer, to most they are nothing special, or something you shoot at. As someone who doesn't see deer often, I appreciate an urban deer (you can find deer in NYC too!) and having the chance to watch them and be watched too.

This was a nifty little park, according to ebird it is hotspot #13 with 148 species on ebird record. If you have no car and are visiting, this would be a good pick to grab a cab and check out- plus it has other attractions nearby as well, allowing for a nice day trip.
I also bet that this park is more productive during other parts of the year - the bar charts on ebird show spring and fall to be good to see warblers, sparrows, and flycatchers, etc- to be expected.
A pretty decent urban birding experience, I hope this helps anyone plan some birding on their next visit to Pittsburgh.

Friday, February 9, 2018


     Well, someone ruined it for us all. Today I am not sharing my locations, just the things I saw in the places that I visited because this is getting out of hand.
     Snowy owls are a hot topic among birders, especially in an urban/suburban setting where the population of people is high and so is the interest in such birds. Birders generally follow a code of ethics created by the American Birders Association. Most follow, but many don't and some folks, especially those who are not birders, disregard it all together. And this shouldn't just be limited to owls, but all birds. We all know some birds are more "sensitive" than others, with respect to birds who are nocturnal or nesting, especially.
     Today I went out, mostly had the place to myself-- thought I saw some other birders in a group who I kept away from, I was feeling like a solo adventurer today and found myself a beautiful snowy owl. I kept my distance, snapped a few pictures with my big lens, observed for 5 minutes and moved on because there was much more to see and I wanted to be respectful.
     Unfortunately as I headed back to my vehicle the bird was surrounded by the now revealed to be a photography group. Eventually some of the group left the bird while two remained. One of the two remaining photographers was waving their arms encouraging the bird to open its eyes or fly (which it did the latter).
     This bums me out so badly. Birds of prey are my favorites and it hurts to see people doing this to them. And gosh, forget about nesting season for terns and plovers on the beach. It also hurts me because I know so many great photographers who DO respect their subjects just there are quite a few bad eggs out there who ruin it for us.
     So, to be respectful of these critters, I will not share locations today.
For those who are not aware, I usually utilize a 200-500mm lens so not only am I able to maintain a respectful distance and grab a memory.... but I also have fabulous shoulders and arms. It's a work out.
All images are processed and cropped in Lightroom so I can make things like this happen without causing much disruption to the owl, as indicated by closed/mostly closed eyes and it's floofy, un-alert posture.

The only movement I observed with this juvenile/female (plumage can go either way depending on age) was some head twists, rotating to look behind and above.

On such a grey day, this bird matched the environment quite well... and unfortunately matches the littered bags, buckets, and jugs too...

(Warning, anthropomorphism alert)
Also, an un-disturbed, respected owl subject just has this look of pure joy on its face. It's like a real life emoji.

Also floofy and the cutest badass bird ever-- the American Kestrel. Most birds were floofy today (yes, floofy is an acceptable word in my world) because it was pretty cold outside.

I enjoyed observing this smallest falcon in all of North America as it looked around from it's perch hunting. As if hovering would be (and is) a chore, this post would surely do the trick.
It dove down from its perch twice while I observed and came up empty taloned.

Birds have superb vision and can see in a spectrum that we cannot, ultraviolet. I presume voles live in this area and as voles go about their day, they piddle along the way, marking their trails with their scent. The voles are also leaving a breadcrumb trail for a kestrel as their urine reflects ultraviolet light, illuminating a path to a meal for a kestrel. With cloud cover, I wonder if it is harder for a kestrel to do this. I would guess not since one still gets sunburnt on a cloudy day, that one being me.

And like the snowy owl, kestrels are sexually dimorphic. Snowy owl adult males are almost entirely white while females are larger and barred. American Kestrel adult males are colored with slate blue wings, a rust-colored tum tum, and rufous backside- females are barred mostly tans, browns and blacks.

Got all my gulls in a row... except they are all ring-billed was hoping for maybe an Iceland, glaucous, black-headed - but no. Just ring-billed.

Male bufflehead, preparing for a dive. Food was good here, even the gulls stopped raiding the trash to feed in the water or among the rocks and seaweed.

My favorite part of the bufflehead. Seems unassuming and dapper in his black and white--- but there is a little party in him too. Catch him in the right light and you'll find it.

A male red-breasted merganser was busy diving, coming up empty. I walked past him one way, then on the way back...

... He nabs a crab AND swallows it whole.

Love me some purple sandpipers, they made up for the lack of any "rare" gulls.

I hope that all have the chance to see wildlife and observe it. But please remember to be respectful, maintain a distance, and consider the habits of the animal (is this its resting time? Is it tending to young? Is food at a minimum due to local conditions? etc.) as to not cause it unnecessary stress and movement; and it shouldn't stop at birds.
Everyone has a right to connect to nature I just hope all consider the creatures they are trying to enjoy.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Coming Out on Top In Vegas

     Tim and I headed West with my sister and her at the time, boyfriend, for a long weekend of fun. Most people don't take me for the Vegas type, and I get it, but I love visiting. On this 5th visit, we all came out winners, especially my sister, who left the place with a fiancĂ©-- and it wasn't one of those what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas type things. We are all so happy to officially welcome Mike into our family. So what began as a birthday/super bowl weekend, escalated into something much more.
     And somehow, you bet-- I got in some birding! Got some welcome lifers, sad to miss a roadrunner, but it only means I'll have to go back...
Just a 20 minute Uber ride beyond the strip sits the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. It's free, it opens early, and with an Uber it's a bit funny to get to as it is on an unnamed road just west of the Animal Control Building and all maps fail to recognize its true location.
Tim joined me for my first outing here and was quite a trooper. I love when he comes for outdoor walks with me and we explores new places together.
ANYWAY. Once inside, it's this amazing oasis in the desert and as a visitor from the East, I won big here with quite a few life birds including this Black Phoebe that nets at their site.
The place was full of desert cottontail rabbits. Every time I saw something run across a path, I was hoping roadrunner-- instead, rabbit.

A darling bird, that is just flitting through every shrub and low tree -- verdin.
They move fast, flit, but when you can finally catch one for a moment, they are gorgeous little things!

On first glance, with a splash of yellow, and a bird darting from branch to branch, you think what friggin' warbler is that?!
Yellow-rumped warblers are EVERYWHERE here, but this one was stumping me, until I finally got a solid look as one -- this one, paused (for most likely, a mere 2 or 3 seconds).

This bird is only found in the very South West and is the only member of its family that lives in North America.

These little birds build nests year round, one nest os for brooding, as bird do with their eggs. But the other type of nest they build is for roosting and keeping warm on those cold desert nights.

Along with pied-billed grebes were these little bug-eyed birds, eared grebes!
Being a water reclamation site, there are a number of ponds chock full of differing groups of waterfowl.

Aside from one snow-topped peak, this was the only other snow I found in the desert.

It was 75 degrees out and it felt so funny to see snow geese here when I am used to seeing them in New York in actual snow.

They were pretty stunning against the arid desert clay colors.

Quite common were common gallinules as they chugged through the ponds alongside American Coots.

Favorite bird of the trip goes to this duck.

What a special treat, to see cinnamon teal. They feel like cinnamon, they appear so warm and a little spicy all at once with that amazing color. I also think if I were a bird I'd be a cinnamon teal, I think our plumage matches up well.

Except I would not be a female cinnamon teal.
With much more cryptic color, and some females I noticed show a little warmth in color on their flanks/wings. Her beak looks almost shoveler like, and man, was this place covered in shovelers. So scanning between all of them revealed special treats like these teal.

This bird also matched the desert in its color, those earthy reddish-brown colors feel similar to the mountains and canyons off in the distance.

I think this duck, the cinnamon teal, got my vote for favorite bird I saw.
Any shade is good shade, even if it's man-made.

Right before our Uber showed up, I nabbed a Costa's Hummingbird for the list in the parking lot.

On Sunday, Tim went for a long run, and I went for a short morning of birding-- because, when in Rome. Or Vegas.

Seen, and heard everywhere-- great-tailed grackle. The males are large, black, and glossy. Females are more of a warm brown and look similar to a female boat-tailed grackle.
The sound these birds make is loud, boisterous, and when a bunch of them get going-- this is the last bird you'd expect it to come from.

The ducks were certainly the show stoppers here, this male green-wing teal were lovely to look out and a real treat in how close in view they often were. Some ponds being bigger than others, with small islands allowed birds to hang out and (I assume) feel relatively safe as the area is monitored for who comes in ( you sign in and out each visit) and restricts activity here to birding, photography, and walking.

I did see lots of familiar faces, aside from shovelers, also were coots, mallards, Canada geese, pied-billed grebes, ruddy ducks, and rafts of these adorable little birds, bufflehead.

Seems like a regular here, white-crowned sparrow were foraging in low, seedy brush and on the ground below. If this showed up in Brooklyn, folks would be trying to track such a bird down for their list.
Another gorgeous green-winged teal, swimming past as I began to huff it back to catch a car and head back for super bowl fun.

Unfortunately, I am easily distracted.

This cheeky trio of three was such a delight, an American Coot, Common Gallinule, and Ruddy Duck chug along together.

How fun are they?

One last duck for the road.
What a great little escape this was from the strip of Las Vegas (although I got hummingbirds in the habitat in our hotel at the Flamingo). If you are in Vegas for a visit, a quick Uber will get you here to get some great fun birds, that change with the season. I have gotten my 2018 list up to 100 birds, and I wish I could have gotten more but, I can't knock it- especially with a few life birds in the mix.
What a great trip, Birds, Birthdays, Football, and an Engagement! Viva Las Vegas!