Friday, February 22, 2019

South Brooklyn Shorelines

     I met up with my friend Tom and be birded along the shores of Brooklyn. I biked and met up first at Gravesend Bay, then to Coney Island. and last to Sheepshead Bay. I racked up a few more year birds and Tim, some life birds!
     It was nice to ride my bike around Brooklyn, get some birds, and bird with a friend!
It's an Iceland Gull.
I'm very happy it's an Iceland gull, I just time after time after time, can ID a glaucous no problem. But Iceland's I second guess too much. Perhaps my second guessing should be a tip off for me that I am looking at an Iceland. That's a valid field mark, right?

Always Purple Sandpipers along the rocks of Gravesend Bay. These were life birds for Tom. Woot!

Also confusing the life out of me... scaup.
This is a hungry scaup.

This is a float on a back scaup.

This is a rub the belly scaup.
(I think the last two pics are greater.... and the first one lesser.)

More Iceland Gull. A good year bird- a big miss in 2018. Glad to have it in 2019 early on.

The more I see black scoters AND close up, the more I fall in love. Right under us at the Coney Island Fishing Pier.

So many scoters still in the area, enough to get you a flag on your ebird count.

Gaddamn, this bird is good looking!

Speaking of good looking ducks...

(super cute yawn action!)

This is the long-tailed duck drake.
It has a long tail, just as it's name states.

It also makes a funny noise.

They are also super cute.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Great Backyard Bird Count: 2.16 - 2.17

     The Great Backyard Bird Count continued yesterday and today, with all types of exciting things to experience. Yesterday, Tim and I traveled up to Shawangunk National Wildlife Refuge in the afternoon, enjoyed the show that nature puts on as dusk approaches each day. On the drive, I was able to spot my first bald eagle of the year.
Shawangunk Grasslands are vast, open, and beautiful. The birds are often far, taking advantage of the space. When I came last year, a fresh cover of snow was hiding much of the grass and prey. Both Northern Harriers (like the one perched here) and Short-eared owls were out, active, hunting, and in decent numbers.

Yesterday, the day shift of harrier were out and in due time, the owls began to take flight and seek higher ground.

An owl wakes as the sun starts to near the horizon.

The harriers seems almost frantic, as the light begins to fade, they seem to know that the owls are waking and it will get a touch harder to claim that last morsel of food before the day is up.

Their owl-like face, with that disk shape serves just the same purpose as it does for owls. Both harrier and short-eared owls fill the same niche, just one by day and the other by night. Hunting in a very similar fashion to one another, soaring over the fields for prey relying on sight and sound.

The plumage fo this bid suggests either this bird is a hen (female) or immature bird. The mature males are a silvery-grey. I think, personally, this plumage of the female type is so very beautiful.

And here come the owls...

I was so excited to share all this with Tim, I promised him owls and we got a great show! He had never been to Shawangunk before and I'm so glad he got to see some owls.

Watching these birds fly is an absolute treat!


These owls are called short-eared owls, they are very soecific to grassland habitats and do have little tiny feather tufts. BUT, they are soooo tiny, those tufts. Really they are often not visible fight in the center of the facial disk.
Tufts or not, these birds are awesome.

And for the record-- these photos are taken from the trails, with a 500mm zoom lens (some folks had GIANT lenses), and this photo is heavily cropped. 

This is a non-cropped photo, at 500mm. Just to give you an idea of how not close you are when you watch this all go down.

Always looked forward to is the changing of the guard, when the owls start to get the harriers off their turf so they can own the fields.

Good way to end the afternoon. On our way back, we stopped for an awesome pasta dinner at our buddy's new pasta & provision shop in Nyack. It's a good way to round out a trip up that way.

     Today, I birded before and afterwork, right here in Brooklyn. I stopped at Marine Park before work and ventured out onto the Coney Island Fishing Pier after work.
So many signs that spring isn't too far away. The red-wing blackbirds were "Onk-a-REEE'ing" their chorus with back up from cardinals with their own songs.

Also cheering for spring was this song sparrow, singing the song of his kind...

Something that I was pretty happy to spot- a fox sparrow! Soon this little bird will be heading north of here to nest.

The American Robin was not doing the spring thing. Ground was frozen and it had to stick to its winter berry diet.
After work, I went out on the Fishing Pier in Coney Island and admired ducks- like this very beautiful long-tailed duck over some beautiful waves.

A female red-breasted merganser was close to the pier in the low glow of the sun. Isn't she stunning?

Also a super cool chance to see that amazing fish catching bill, serrated to grab and hold onto a slippery fish.

Im going to say it...
Gulls are beautiful.

The real spectacle were the scoters, there were a good number of black scoter between the beach groins (those are what those rock pilings coming out from the beach are called). There were even more, and surf scoters out further on the water.

A female black scoter.
All these birds are getting ready to fly northward to nest and rear a little family up in Canada.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

     I look forward to ANY good reason to bird. This span of 4 days (2/15-2/18) is the Great Backyard Bird Count an amazing community scientist initiative to get folks out looking at, counting, and identifying birds. Whether this is your first time or millionth, it's for everyone!
     There are some great birds out there for all to see and I got to share a well-showing life bird with my dad, yesterday afternoon as I birded some area of Long Island, with all target species I was looking to see squired. That is also a very nice feeling! And sharing birding with someone is always extra special.
I began at Point Lookout, not much variety in the water. But the long-tailed ducks, few common eiders, and brant were riding the waves, practically with their eyes closed.
A handsome male shows off his namesake long tail, blowing in the wind.

Sanderlings ran after and ran from the waves. The morning was very cloudy and mono-tone in color.

Next I went to Jones Beach, stopped at the coast guard station and then the parking lots, mainly looking for horned lark and snow bunting (above).
Was happy to have found both!

Snow bunting are very cute in their winter plumes, little rust colored cheeks, their overall coloration blends them super well into the dunes. As opposed to their stark black and white breeding plumage, giving them the "snow" in their name -- besides the fact they are a bird of the high north.

After making a grilled cheese at my parents house and enjoying the finer things I never have in my home, like Pringles, cookies, and an Entemann's donut... And "putting together" my dad's binoculars (attaching the strap). I magically convinced my dad to come find another target bird with me, a Pacific Loon.
And as described by others, it was exactly where it has been for the last week plus!

My dad wondered, as most do- if this loon is not from here, why is it here? Well, these birds breed in the Arctic and winter, normally along the west coast on the ocean, bays, and estuaries out there. But when you have wings a page in a book does not determine where you should be. Yes, birds often go to and return to the same place but sometimes you take a wrong turn, get blown off course, or even find good resources elsewhere. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology on their range map page for birds now includes a sightings map, compiled from ebird data, showing reported sightings - and its pretty interesting to see how the two maps differ. You just never know when a bird will show up and break the rules of its range!

A life bird for both my dad and I!
Birding helps create memories and I'm glad I got to share this moment with my dad. 
So, what makes them different from the common and red throated loons we often see in winter at our coast?
Well for one, that chinstrap. Although it isn't always easy to see or visible. It is much so on this bird.
Also, the bill is thinner, less heavy than a common loon - and common loon tends to me at least to look a bit heavier bodied than this bird. It's back is also very dark, compared to the loons we usually see here.

Another field mark I like in particular, but not unique to this species - is that striping that fades into their chest. I never really see that well defined on the winter plumage of common loons, but you will see it the breeding plumage of most loon species.

We enjoyed watching this bird at close range from the walkway above the marina in Oyster Bay. It darted under docks, between boats and seemed to know when all the shell fishermen would come in for the day, in mid afternoon where it would change its location to just outside the marina to avoid the small boat traffic.
I love sharing birding with others and glad to have my dad along for this one!

...Now, onto day 2 with owls, harriers, and pasta!