Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Falling For Birds

     I don't know which I like better, fall or spring migration. Spring always feels like a hectic mad rush, birds eager to get to their nesting grounds to take care of business, reproduce! But Fall seems more laid back, it comes in waves: shore birds, raptors, sparrows, waterfowl, and a few lost souls who are way off course! It's an exciting to to be a birder and a time when many discover birding, in the mad rush of birders for a rarity.
     I spent my weekend in Prospect Park, and it was very rewarding. I realize how much I miss regularly getting lost in the park. But I also found a pretty great bike route that gets me there in 20 minutes, with guaranteed parking. I might be heading there more and more, especially after I found a Vietnamese sandwich spot within 10 minutes of walking from Grand Army Plaza.
     And it didn't end there- Monday after work, I sought our sparrows in Floyd Bennett Field. I enjoyed the community gardens, the grass filled with sparrows! On Tuesday, for work, we all walked in Marine Park with an old coworker who is now an Urban Park Ranger and bonus, our colleague brought her adorable dog - who is my long lost canine sister. Our hair matched. All outings were exciting with great finds, I look forward to uncovering more as the winds continue to bring in new birds!
     Needles to say, it has been a migratory bird extravaganza, I am feeling a mix of fulfillment and still haven't had enough --as reports of new batches of birds are coming in!
Upon arriving in Prospect Park last Friday, I was greeted with trees dripping with cute- kinglets, both ruby-crowned (above) and golden-crowned were flitting about, dangling from branches, vocalizing, and flying within close proximity.

Just a little voracious insect snatcher!

Also abundant, yellow-rumped warblers. If you didn't see then, you heard them!

Want a guaranteed wood-duck sighting? This is your park! Prospect has a lovely little population of wood ducks that you can see on the lake, the lullwater, and the upper & lower pools.

In the Rose Garden, this Palm warbler was not shy. The bird nearly walked atop my toes as it hunted insect prey.

Here for the winter: White-throated sparrows. They make you work for others- currently I find myself sifting through these birds to uncover something not white-throated.

I gasped with delight when I found her, the very modest but very delicately beautiful female purple finch. 

I was satisfied with the female, but then another female and male purple finch showed up. Just hang up my boinculars, I'm done!

...No I'm not.

I headed to the sparrow bowl for sparrows. I found this lovely blue-headed vireo!

It was nice to see it at eye level, could see all its gorgeous coloration.
I wanted this to not be a song sparrow, buuuut, it is.

Showstopper: I took a break from painting Saturday to see the purple gallinule. The last time one was here was 2004! See the accounts of 14 years ago from The City Birder.

Why is the city and beyond bugging out for this bird? Well, it's a Southerner-- like South Florida.
With all the storm activity along with migration, this bird seems to have been thrown off course.
Those giant, splayed toes are for walking over water plants with ease.

And totally didn't have my camera to see this bird-- so these are straight up through my iPhone via my binoculars!

Some birders and some bird- the Gallinule was quite close and not shy. Almost like it knew its value to the growing crowd.

And video shot via my phone via my binoculars.
In getting to Floyd after work on Monday, the ground at the Community garden was crawling with birds. The kinglets (like the golden-crowned) barely flinch in your presence. This one was literally burrowing through the grass!

My find of the evening was among the white-throated and juvenile white-crowned, an adult white-crowned sparrow! 

It was a 3-falcon day at Marine Park. We had Merlin, which was busy pestering the local Kestrel team...
The kestrels were busy trying to hunt, while the merlin kept them on their toes. 
With the mowed grasses and dropping temperatures, and a lucky warm afternoon- the kestrels cashed in on insects-- like this grasshopper.

And no time to stop-- eating on the wing!
Just a 'hopper leg hanging out the mouth!

ANd then, the third falcon species showed up-- the fastest creature on earth, the peregrine falcon-- a pair, at that!
So much falcon activity also kept us entertained. The hovering, dives, and swerves to avoid competitor talons.

And just as we thought all was perfect... A VESPER SPARROW!!!! 
White eye-ring with that smudgy-streaked breast, a perfect vesper sparrow. Another migration marvel, vespers have been showing up all around the city. They are not usually common sights but it seems like they are showing up in a number of places this season!

Always lovely to see, and also feels like there is a huge amount of them EVERYWHERE, American Goldfinch.

If there is grass with old flowers gone to seed, brown and dry-- then chances are a goldfinch is not far away!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Picking Up Where I had Left Off...

     I did go to Floyd Bennett Field yesterday to bird, but totally got distracted when I suddenly saw black clouds billowing up from the trees. Fearing there was a large brush fire, I drove to another vantage point. I found there was a barge under the Belt Parkway on Fire. Texting, probably way too much to Tim about all the excitement. I watched as firefighters had to put out a fire that was well below the parkway and on a floating vessel. It was pretty amazing to watch as the winds didn't give up, only fueling a fire until fire boats arrived. Trust me, you would have watched too!

     So after my project of painting the upstairs hallway ceiling, with paint still on my face and probably in my hair, I went back to Floyd. Picking up where I left off- wanting to scout for some sparrows. I was happy to see the sun came out and couldn't let myself have been confined to our home all day. I sure was happy to get outside, even more so since my little trip was nothing short of perfect.
A savannah sparrow among the savannah of Brooklyn. Floyd Bennet Field provides grassland that is relished by many species, especially unique to this habitat. While Savannah Sparrows can be seen in other open areas, like those among dunes on our coast, or grassy fields in some of our urban parks, they are especially plentiful here.

The Savannah sparrows were busy on the ground foraging with large numbers of American Goldfinch. While I didn't see much other sparrow besides a single swamp sparrow I relished seeing some other things...

Like this yellow-billed cuckoo who just flew into the tree I was watching sparrows and goldfinch in. They are such cool birds, and a little weird too, I think that's why I like them.

Thanks to a tip from friends, I went down to Archery Road to hopefully see some birds that I needed for 2018. They were not black-bellied plovers. But I was still happy to see them, none-the-less. I think they look quite dapper in their winter plumage.

This is the bird I was very happy to see, a red knot. I wonder where it's final winter destination is, maybe Brazil, maybe even further south. Many birds fly wayyyy down to Tierra del Fuego, just a stones throw from the Antarctic. That's incredible after having spent the summer at or in the Arctic Circle.

If this image of a black-bellied plover doesn't warm your heart for even just a flicker of a moment, putting your scientist hat aside, this little bird is so cute.
Admit it.
Be a pLOVER not a fighter.

There were 4 red knots here when I arrived. All picking at the barnacles and whatever was living among them. It's time to fuel up, this bird has a long trip ahead! Better get a move-on because...
... Winter is coming.

(Brants are/have been back and I'm sure more are on the way!)

It's Raining Raptors!

     Fall is only good for one thing, raptors. I love birds of prey and yesterday there was quite a good show of them over Marine Park in Brooklyn.
     The park is currently having its open grassland mowed, and on my morning run through the park I noticed a lot of small sparrows and finches flying from the freshly mowed area, probably reaping the bounty left behind.
     I returned hoping to find some sparrows, but they were mowing, and obviously any birds were flushed from those areas. I also didn't see nearly as many smaller birds as I did during my run and with mowing, high winds, and predators above, it was a perfect storm to keep small birds hidden.
     But I am not complaining, I love those predators sailing on the wind...

I found upon entering the nature center trail, a green heron. Mainly focused on the rising tide and what it brought with it.

We had a brief moment of acknowledgment. 

With winds whipping, this little yellow-rumped warbler held tightly to the branches of this sumac as it swayed loosely in the gusts.

A lot of sharp-shinned hawk action. These little hawks, smaller than a crow were all over the air. Sometimes even pushing the Cooper's hawks around, who are half a size larger.

A great blue heron maneuvers through the wind for a better fishing spot.

It was truly a raptor fest, a familiar shape in the sky- it spoke eagle.
A juvenile bald eagle shakily soared against the wind.
In addition to this eagle and the sharp-shinned hawk, I also observed Cooper's hawks, red tailed hawk, merlin, and American kestrels (below). At certain points I'd be able to look up and see multiple species and multiple individuals at once.

A female American Kestrel gave me quite show over the mowed grasses. She was busy hunting, presumable the insects that have been exposed by the absence of the grasses.

She hovered and swooped, over and over as she honed in on her prey.

While I admit, these aren't amazing shots- I am in love with how the light highlights the barring on her wings and tail. The hovering behavior of kestrels, as they hold their place in the air makes for a great chance to capture a photo of this otherwise fast-moving bird.
I noticed some dragonflies flying near where I was and she even, without hesitation took a couple of close passes my way, which is so amazing to experience. You feel like you're acceptable enough to be in their world, and you don't deter them from what they need to do.


If you look juuuuust in front of her feet, you see the grasshopper just escaping her talons and jumping away. She proceeded to pounce about 3-4 more times. I don't think she managed to catch this (very lucky) little insect.
I love being able to be part of their world and observe them acting naturally without causing them distraction, this for me is the most satisfying part of birding for me.

The least shy Northern Flicker. Usually you just make eye contact with these birds and they are off. Granted this bird was pretty far away and up high in a tree, I was still amazed it let me look at it.

Was so happy to see that the green heron was still there on my way out. 
Found some house sparrows being car sparrows around and under my car.

I guess the wind was even too much for them... I shoo'd 8 birds out from my car!