Saturday, January 26, 2019

Canvasback #79 #338

     I went out yesterday continuing to try and build up my year list with some birds who are only here for the winter. It was a success. I drove out to Baisley Pond and Jamaica By Wildlife Refuge. Baisley had a lot more going on as much of the east and west ponds in Jamaica Bay were frozen. Baisley also had a life bird I was super happy to encounter. I love birding in NYC, such amazing abundance and sights to see in sometimes the oddest places.
Gadwall were very present on Baisley. I also got some nice close looks. From afar, gadwall are a brown duck, closer inspection reveals their fine details and beauty.

How many species of bird do you see?
I see six... Ring-necked duck, gadwall, American wigeon, Canada Goose, Mallard, and American coot.
This gadwall guy was quacking up a storm. They sounded very much like a hunters duck call, but shot and deep in tone.

Drake American wigeon.

A hungry little white-throated sparrow.

White-throated sparrows are renowned for their amazing manners.

This is a very special floating lump.
This is a canvasback.
And a life bird.
Bird 79 of 2019 and 338 on my life list.

While waiting for the canvasback to wake, I looked at ring-necked ducks.

Finally, he woke.
And a nice comparison between the Canvasback, left and Redhead, right. That sloped forehead, whiter mid section, and red eyes!

Very happy to view this duck!

A short little preen before he went right back into that nap.

Female and male ring-necked ducks. Quite a number on the pond, enough so that ebird flags them as a high count. I feel like last winter there were just as many here.

Waterfowl mix.
Redheads, American wigeon, mallard, coot, Canada goose.

A little Junco before Jamaica Bay.

Jamaica Bay had good stuff too, but a lot less. Got a year bird here too, Tree sparrow, year bird #81. This is NOT a tree sparrow, but a house finch.

Next weekend, is my favorite, Superb Owl Sunday. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 21, 2019

No Pain, No Gain.

     Sometimes you gotta tough it out, and as my birding buddy Jeana said today, "no pain, no gain!" The cold was painful today, with windchills below zero and actual temp in the single digits, we felt the pain, we made some gains!
     4 layers of pants, 2 pairs of socks, 4 layers of long sleeves, a hat under my new fleece full hood and mask, 2 neck warming items, 2 pairs of gloves, and boots that weigh a few pounds each-- I was ready! The cold and wind brought most birds close to the ground (good because I had so many layers around my neck, looking anywhere but straight ahead was hard), making for really great looks! While most others opted indoors, Jeana and I got some birds that made our trek and weathering the cold worth it!

More vibrant than I was expecting, an immature/female Varied Thrush, who has been in this park (Clove Lakes Park) since last December (2018).
And the reason why we are excited to see this bird is because its usual range is along the western coast from Alaska (mainly Breeding) down to the northern part of Baja California (winter range). This one took a wrong turn and ended up here. So this cold snap is probably not phasing it, since some do live year round in the southern reaches of Alaska.

Varied thrush are in the thrush family (good thing, with that name!), so they are related to American Robins. They are similarly shaped and sized, and follow a similar diet. They eats insects and grubs during warmer months and for winter, when invertebrates are dormant, their diet switches over to mainly fruits and nuts. This one was picking about at berries.


Best views it gave us! Their belly is a bit more plump than a robin, they almost look like they have a pot-belly.

Right before it flew into some underbrush to forage.
Really thankful for such close and great looks at this beautiful bird! Very happy to have seen it to add to my life list!

I started taking pictures of floofy birds so I could dedicate them all to Jeana, because she has similar taste to mine- floofy birds are a favorite.
Here, a flooft mockingbird.
Why floofy? Well, when it's colder than you refer, fluffing up your feathers creates a layer of air between you and your outermost feathers, which acts as insulation and keeps you warm! Many birds had this look today.

A second bonus, a yellow-breasted chat!
(Also floofy)

This bird was at eye level, again, for great looks!
It remained low and when we left it, it went even lower down to the edge of the pond there, foraging on fallen fruits.

Yellow-breasted chat are not terribly out of the ordinary on Staten Island. I learned from another friend that they are year-round residents there.
This one seems to be doing fine, foraging on berries, fallen into the brush. Being in the trees today with the strong winds, not worth it.

A floofy male cardinal, foraging with a few females and white-throated sparrows nearby.

Another mockingbird, staying warm.

We were unable to find the bittern, but enjoyed this one of two great blue herons and a female belted kingfisher, fishing the area along the stream.

Making a b-line for the car, but one last photo, a red-bellied woodpecker.

Braving the cold = worth it!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Black-headed Gull

     Yesterday I took a day to take care of things around the house, but found some time to sneak out and nab a good bird. In an outing to Sheepshead Bay, I got a black-headed gull, saw some familiar human faces  that I enjoy seeing, and did it all in under an hour and before sunset.
     Tomorrow I will try again for the Varied Thrush on Staten Island, this might be the last trip until another good bird comes up out there, that bridge toll is killer!
If you see a gull that has any orange on it, legs or bill- stop and look, it's not your run of the mill ring-billed (left), herring, or black-back gull.
Orange bill, orange legs, petite, and those black "ears," means we have a black-headed gull.

Brief lesser scaup interlude (they were so close, I couldn't resist!).

Also, another nice marker for not your run-of-the-mill gull, the leading edge of those wings from wrist to tips is white. They look like headlights in flight.
Now if you saw a gull like this, but with a small black bill, you'd have a Bonaparte's gull. The beauty of gulls is their subtle differences and even more confusing-- their plumage cycles, based on age. They are not always the easiest birds to ID, even though they are everywhere.
In breeding, black-headed gulls actually have black heads, but winter is not breeding time. So, similar to laughing gulls and Bonaparte's gulls, no black head in the winter time.

And now. Lots of preening.

Yay! Black-headed gull!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Sometimes You Dip, Duck, and Win.

     On a whim, I drove out to the 5th Borough, Staten Island, hoping to see the Varied Thrush that has been there for at least a month. Of course I didn't see that or the yellow-breasted chat. But I saw other things and ended up spending more time than I thought I would at Clove Lake Park. I also saw some friends and made new ones, so it wasn't a complete washout of a trip.
     Many others looked for this bird and also came up empty handed, unless you were there prior to my arrival around 11:30, the bird was missed. But, I saw other things and things that I usually don't get such great looks at, plus some decent rarities.
Walked into the park, immediately ran into little black-capped acrobats (chickadees).

They also showed off their woodpecker-like prowess.

And shared their singing skills.

Great blue heron was unimpressed.
I learned the herons nest here, that's pretty cool!

I mostly enjoyed the lovely looks I got at hooded mergansers. The females are just as beautiful as the males with those feathery mohawks.

A funny mallard hen exhibiting some piebald leucism.

A male hooded merganser who challenged me to a stare-off. I realized he actually just wanted to get past the bridge I was standing on.

A lovely hen hooded merganser.

Just a small part of his little harem.

The stare-down get very serious. Then he dove with just one female, swam under the bridge, flew a short distance , and made it to his end goal on the other side. Left his little harem behind though.
Later, I saw a granddad and his grand kids trying to feed the ducks. except the ducks were merganser ducks. The kids kept running and the ducks kept flying. Grandpa said it was because they are "wild ducks," which is true, but so are the mallards that I think he was looking for. Really mergansers don't like crackers... or kids. Especially ones in giant unicorn hats running. Anyway, world at large, mergansers are fish and invertebrate eaters. Also, consider snacking on crackers and bread yourself, and not giving it to ducks.

Not a duck!
One of these -- well, two, of these birds are not like the others!
The herring gull is the easy answer.

That mini goose is the other!
A cackling goose! Nubby bill, compact car size, had to stretch its little neck to see over all the others.

Best bird of the day!
American Bittern!
These are the best kinds of birds, unexpected, normally never get such great looks, and super cooperative to get decent photo in really overcast conditions.
I also made a new friend too- I didn't find this bird, she, a young female birder did (great spotting!).


My very first memory of an American Bittern was a summer in high school up at Harvey's Lake in Vermont. The lake is famous because Jacques Cousteau dove there. It's close to our family's heart as my dad spent many a summer's there as a kid, a family member lived on the lake, and for many summers, our family would rent a cabin there. With no TV, we listened to mets games on the radio at night over a campfire, by day we fished, caught frogs, toads, snakes, acted like teenage girls taunting the boys across the lake, and canoed and explored the waterways.
On one canoeing adventure, we caught a few painted turtles, followed some ducks, and in rounding a corner at eye level with ourselves inside the canoe, from the reeds, it's bill pointed to the sky, neck extended, and frozen was this weird brown and white heron-thing. Even though it had its chin to us, its eyes were in total contact with ours, it froze like it was ice. My sisters and I also froze and gave a huge "WTF?!" We canoed away, unsure of being so close to this bird, I am pretty sure the bird took off, memory of how that concluded is blurry because I was so excited to see something I've never seen before.
I had at the time a National Geographic bird field guide (I still use it today as a place to write down and mark off birds where I first saw them) and I upon getting back, I looked up this weird bird we just encountered. And within it, the American Bittern is marked off as being first seen in Vermont for me!
Aside from this look, that was the best ever look I had at an American Bittern, and it will always be a happy memory of summers with my family.
Bittern are really good at being in paces where if you were just walking by, you'd 100% miss this decently-sized bird. Like I said, the finder had good eyes for finding this bird! Where she originally saw it was through thicket and brush against a small mud bank.

Thank you, Bittern, for making my trip well worth it! Winning.