Saturday, February 29, 2020

Short-eared Owls

     Yesterday, I made my annual trek to Shawangunk National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the short-eared owls. As it is getting late in the season, this was a good day to get a chance to see them. It's about a 2 hours trek from Brooklyn so I broke up the trip with a pitstop at my amazing friends' pasta shop, DPNB Pasta & Provisions in Nyack for a late lunch and to pick up additional carbohydrates for dinner.
     In my arrival to Shawangunk I really lucked out. One SEOW gave myself and a few other some amazing and long views of it at fairly close range. It chose its perches, one progressively closer than the other. Which means I ended up with 600+ photos of one bird, in more of less the same pose. With each photo I'll share some random factoids about SEOW's and the grassland habitats they thrive in.
I arrived and was headed for the trail when another birder pointed and said "it's right there!"
It was not there 5 seconds ago!
A short-eared owl popped out onto a pole, directly in front of the parking area, a relatively short distance away.

The bird sat for a good while and then flew, to an even closer perch, still within range of the parking area. All observers remained in the parking area and gave the bird space.

It sat low, as Northern Harriers were still on the day shift, scouring the fields for voles and other rodents.
These grasslands are such important habitat for birds of prey like the harriers and owls and a myriad of smaller birds; in the summer this habitat is home to grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, and bobolinks. And those are just some of the birds.
Many other animals also call these grasslands home.

Grasslands are an important habitat and one that is harder and harder to find. The short-eared owls are considered endangered in New York State and grasslands like these provide crucial winter habitat for these birds.
Short-eared owls, living in grasslands, even nest on the ground. Even here in the grasslands, with no snow on the ground, many of them remain hidden in the grasses by day and begin flight at dusk.

The more open, the better. These owls are sensitive to changes in habitat and like other grassland birds, the less trees and shrubs the even better the habitat is!

As the sun gets low in the sky other animals take to the fields, like these white-tailed deer.

Nest boxes are available around the refuge grounds for songbirds during the spring and summer that nest here, like eastern bluebirds.
Also important to mention, all these owl photos are taken at a distance using a 500mm lens, of which then, the photo are cropped, quite heavily at times. This photo gives you some idea of the bird being given space to hang out and lay low until it is ready to begin its hunting.

Not so often seen, the "ears" of the short-eared owl - which are just small feather tufts.
The actual ears of this bird are located within their facial disk, which acts to amplify and funnel sound into their asymmetrically placed ears that allows them to hunt their food based on sound.

We had some good light as the sun began to fade, so sorry, not sorry for this opportunity to take as many photos as possible...

I can't put on makeup to save my life, but these owls have the most perfect smokey eyes...

There are many subspecies of short-eared owl as they are found nearly world-wide. They even reside on islands like Hawaii and the Galapagos.
While these birds winter here and in places south into Mexico, they breed North into Canada and Alaska. They range far and wide!
Eventually, as many of the birders and photographers had their fill, this bird began preparing for its flight and hunting over the grasses. It took to the air and flew to a new perch, further away.
Also, another thing I love about these owls: feathered legs and feet!

It seemed to gather itself, shake out its feathers and then took off on those long, beautiful wings. At least two other owls joined this bird, at one point even clashing in their air and calling loudly.

Flying silently as owls do, they flutter low over the grasses looking and even more so listening. When they are onto something they will hover and suddenly dive into the grasses. If you're lucky you'll see them come up with something in their talons.
This was the easiest, least strenuous outing I have yet to have at Shawangunk, it almost felt too easy.
I'm not complaining.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Weird Winter Ducks

     I had a hankering for winter ducks yesterday, especially as the high for the day was in the 30's, it actually felt like winter as we have been spoiled with a very mild winter this time around. I'm glad I can still fit into my warmest clothes and be comfy venturing out for cold adventures.
     While it wasn't as ducky as I wanted it to be at the beach, I was rewarded eventually, for my having to haul my much heavier self through the sand that always felt like it never had any good packed down sections to tread more easily. I did my adventuring at Jones Beach and then made a quick stop a Baisley Pond Park on my way home.
     Normally I despise the cold, but when it comes to birding, I love the coldest days because it keeps the crowds away. I had the entire beach to myself with the exception of one other person out walking, and the park police who drove out as I was leaving. Also, I think a good cold day out in nature is good for you. Keeps you invigorated! (just as long as you have good gear!)
My luck at the Coast Guard Station was not that great, very little waterfowl variety, a lot of brant.
Even the channel between West End and Point Lookout, very quiet.
So I hoped that I would see some eiders and/or harlequin ducks at the jetty.
And Yay!
I got a lovely group of a drake and a three hens.
They even made their funny little squeaky sounds!
The light was not in my favor but these ducks are STUNNERS.
They moved with the surf, diving for food, and often swimming in formation.

One hen even popped out onto a rock to feed. That was fun!
It also gives you a good look at how stocky their bodies are, which you do not get a sense for when they are swimming.

I was also super happy to see these two immature drake common eiders.
They have horse faces, and are just so interesting to look at. They also really like the jetty and feed on the shellfish that attch and grow on the rocks.

The adults are very stunning, this is definitely an ugly ducking ... or awkward teenager, type duck.
I still think they cute.
I was very excited to see a second drake harlequin joined the crew and as they dove, one of the two came up with a fish!
Of which I cannot identify.

The little fish put up a fight, the duck dropped it a few times, but it was incapacitated enough that just a dunk of the head allowed the duck to retrieve it.
The duck had to position the fish correctly to best send it down the chute.
And yum!

Finally, some light that works!

They handsome. The one in Brooklyn is cool, because he's cooperative, close and not a usual sight for Brooklyn.
But these grown up boys, they are hot.
And I also enjoyed the company of one female long-tailed duck from the area of the Jetty. I like these ducks too. They are deep divers and make funny noises.
They also cute. But tough. But cute.
The two drake harlequins together. So flashy!
I wanted a quick stop at Baisley Pond Park in Queens to enjoy the redheads and the plentiful ring-neck ducks.
With the light on the wrong side, they look so goth. I needed some ring-billed ducks for my year list. Trying to get to the easiest birds while I can as we creep closer to May, which I normally look forward to as warbler month, but this year, it is baby month.  At least babies can look up more easily from their stroller, no warbler neck for them!
A sure sign of the cold. All the little birds go round. This song sparrow looks unimpressed with the temperatures out there.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


     A Painted Bunting has really been playing the part in downtown Brooklyn, bright-eyed, not a local by any means, took up residence in a very fancy part of town and holding it down. Probably hitting up some bougie brunch spots on the weekend with some hip song sparrows. Until it finds a mate and realizes that Downtown Brooklyn is not a realistic place to raise a family and that they really need to get back home, closer to their parents ... oh wait, we're talking birds here.
     Originally discovered by Heather Wolf at the end of December 2019, this southern bird has been attracting birders from all around and has been holding steady, thanks to the native grasses and other plantings that are providing it with natural and abundant food sources. Being a female or immature male, its olive green plumage allows it to blend in well to the grasses, unlike the very flashy mature males, this bird in its beauty is suited to where it has been frequenting as raptors are not uncommon.
     It was nice to see this bird, in comparison to the male that showed up in 2016 in Prospect Park, the contrast between the two plumages was very interesting to see. Although, get this "drab" bird in the sunlight, and holy smokes, it GLOWS. This bird is very beautiful and should not be disregarded just because it is not a mature male.
     I was lucky enough to enjoy it with my husband on a freakishly mild day, yesterday. In a sweatshirt along the East River, we were very comfortable and I bet this bird was too!
Tipped off by a friendly birder, we found the bird behind the berm it has been frequenting on Pier 4, with the BQE roaring behind us.

It was actively feeding, enjoying the plentiful seeds. It was very active flitting, hopping, stretching, and bouncing on blades of grass to reach seeds.

This also meant A LOT of open mouth shots with views of that little tongue that seems to do a lot of work in helping to manipulate the seeds into the best position for de-shelling and then crushing/consuming.

After thinking I was done, I went to go see if I could find another birder I ran into also searching for this bird. And it seemed that bird found them before I got to share the location. It flew over the berm to the other side, into the sunlight, looking like a completely different bird. It found a tiny puddle and took a giant bath.
It also stuck its tongue out!

That bill is so very interesting and well adapted for all those delicious seeds!

This tiny pool of water on an edging stone, seems so insignificant but it probably means the world to little birds in this park and a source for bathing and drinking.

Those colors!

And after your bath, you need to dry, preen, and get everything back into place.
An epic grooming session commenced, post bath. In a clear line of view!
A few of us were very lucky to enjoy this.

A mild day, 50*F, probably makes bathing a lot easier and more comfortable!

So glad to get this bird on my year list, time is ticking, just about 2 months to go before our baby bird arrives. Managing time,  work, needs around our home, the mounting appointments, and our personal interests is getting harder. Practice, I suppose for whats to come.