Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wallkill River NWR

     My husband over the work week mentioned how he yearned to go for a day trip, to get out of the house explore somewhere new. My ears caught his words and I reminded him of how I like to spend my free time, exploring places, the newer the better!

    I chose for us Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Situated mostly in New Jersey, but a little bit of it reaching in to New York. I also saw there were places for us to go to and relax after our exploring that were outdoors, family friendly, and COVID conscious. If we had more time, I'd stop at a farm stand to get some fresh produce, eggs, and honey, being among the offerings we saw along the way.

    We made the drive and only explored a very small portion of the place. There are many trails but we mostly explored Liberty Loop Trail. It's flat, level, and gets 5 stars for stroller friendliness. It also gets 5 stars for the bird sights along its middle portion that cuts across the marshland. The baby had a great time and even enjoyed a few of her own firsts!

It's been a while since I caught a snake! I love snakes and reptiles, in general. Before birds, they were a big obsession of mine, especially in my teenage years. This De Kay's (Brown) snake was a first for me and a first for our baby girl who smiled so big when we showed her this little snake friend.

The grasshoppers here were numerous and large, even. I hope one day we can all catch grasshoppers together!

Common yellowthroats were in much of the brushy, grassy sides of the trails along with house wren, indigo buntings, catbirds, and N. mockingbirds.
Hunting over the marsh was a Northern Harrier, swopping and surveying back and forth.

I knew this place was known for its Sandhill Cranes... but I didn't know I'd see a sandhill crane... more or less, a pair of Sandhill Cranes! Wow!!!!

The last time I saw Sandhill cranes was in Texas, earlier this year, while fairly pregnant, on our "Babymoon," before the year went into a downward spiral all around us. I won't say 2020 was a complete loss, because our baby girl arrived and made things a fair bit brighter for us in many ways. But anyway, back to cranes. These bird will be heading south soon as they migrate to places along the gulf coast.

While we didn't get to hear them, like their cousins, who we also had the amazing pleasure and luck to see on our Texas trip, the Whooping cranes, these birds can make quite the noise.

As I walked down the trail, the views of the cranes got better and also in the marsh in front of them other little treasures were found like these wood ducks and a few blue wing teals.

Also saw this little buddy, a juvenile common gallinule. It was making quite a scene, calling and fumbling over grasses.
But look at those feet!!!! Those long toes are always crazy to see. They help these bird stride with ease over marshy grasses and mud with no problem.

We saw an adult nearby too, this was another surprise bird that I welcomed into view.
Such perfect weather and a needed day to clear our minds and spend some family time together out in nature.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Nighthawk flight to confusing peeps

    When the clock hit 4pm last Friday, I packed up my work for the weekend and went into bird mode. I did some birding at Floyd, explored Cow Meadow Park in Freeport, LI, and went to the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. 

    The weather is a bit more comfortable, with almost a chill in the air in the mornings. It's pretty perfect for walking around in and not coming home a sweaty mess.

    Lets start at Floyd...

A group of three American Crows were the first birds I stumbled upon at Floyd. This one is having a funny molt.

I found a number of house wrens and that is something I'll never be sad about.

I love these little round noise-makers. They all came out of the brush to scold me a bit and then take cover again.

Can never ever have too much wren. Ever.

As I made my way back, I saw a bird flying furiously through the air, making turns super fast, swooping, flapping furiously... I got my binoculars on it and those two white spots sealed the ID for me, a common nighthawk! Just what I was hoping for!

While the mosquitoes feasted on me, I feasted my eyes on the acrobatics of this bird. They are fascinating to watch and such a treat to see.

By day, these bird resemble a bump on a tree limb. Their tiny little bill actaully leads to a surprisingly large gape. When they are in action, they scoop up flying insects on the wing. A very cool bird to see and observe.

    On Sunday I went to Jamaica Bay, with those hopes of continuing to hone my shorebird ID. With the baby hanging back at home, I explored the east pond and tried my hand at sifting through the semipalmated sandpipers for discreet differences to hopefully discover some hidden birds among the flocks.

Upon arrival, I found a lot of peeps and a friend! Like an actual human friend, it was so good to see her! We spotted this bird, a little different from the rest of the semipalmated sandpipers... The longer, droopier bill made me think Western. And after sharing this photo with others, they agreed with Western Sandpiper.

One thing that I find super rewarding about birding is getting to know the intricacies of each species. The averge human would likely look at a sandpiper and call it just that, sandpiper. But they are so much more! Compare this fella to the one above, it's bill is shorter. Even the backlit western above doesnt show nearly as much reddish color. This bird also has yellow legs and feet and is (I promise you) smaller than many of the other sandpipers nearby, making this bird a least sandpiper.

One thing all sandpipers do not like, is being predated.
This and two other peregrine falcons made quite the scene. I don;t even think they were actually hungry. I almost think they were just having a good time riling up the flocks of sandpipers.

Another bird- not only is this bill longer and down curved, this bird was also significantly larger than all the other birds. This is a dunlin!

Again, I don't trust myself. This bird just felt different to me than a Royal tern. The bill felt redder and more heavy. Confirmed with the help of bird twitter (thank you!), this is a Caspian Tern!

And another, again, this bird was like a sports car among VW bugs, sleek and elongated. It wings extending past its tail. I could tell it was something different.

It is a white-rumped sandpiper! And next to a semipalmated sandpiper for comparison. Again, did not feel confident with my ID in the field, it is something I need to get better about.

And then as I picked my final peep out of the bunch all three peregrines at once come out like fighter jets, zooming fast, low, and with the intent to cause trouble.

Clearly the eating is good, you can see from the full crop... I guess I'm not the only one enjoying shorebird migration.

Before leaving, this Northern waterthrush made sure the coast was clear before it continued on its way. Fall migration continues on and soon we will have lots of new birds to explore with the seasons changing.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Birding this last week.

      I was fortunate enough to do some birding throughout the week, some with the kiddo, and I even got treated to a morning out while the baby stayed home with her dad. From birding NYC's first airport, to the Cemetery, to the refuge, and the salt marsh nearby, I got a little bit of everything with a few really nice surprises!

Earlier this week, the baby and I went to Floyd Bennett Field, NYC first municipal airport, now a vital grassland habitat. While the runways no longer host planes, they do welcome other flying things. The freshwater puddles that form on these non-permeable surfaces become important places for birds to gather, as odd as that seems. Puddle birding can be quite fruitful if you are at the right puddle at the right time!

This puddle hosted 4 killdeer (this bird), 3 least sandpipers, an odd tree swallow, and a few visitors including mourning doves, a robin, and an American goldfinch.
Freshwater is also good for bathing. While I cannot claim how clean the water is, the birds don't really seem to care? This killdeer was all in.

I was hoping to see our baby's namesake, an American Kestrel, I see one or more here nearly every visit. Since having the baby, we have not seen a Kestrel. But today, while peering through my binoculars, the birds burst into the air and I heard a "woosh!"
This Peregrine Falcon, the Kestrel's larger cousin came out of nowhere at speed and surprised us all! What a moment! These falcons are awe-inducing with their ability to go really fast, in fact they are the fastest animal on earth.

Once the danger passed, the birds slowly trickled back to the puddle to continue their foraging, bathing, and drinking before the sun set on them.
On Friday Afternoon, the kiddo and I birded Green-Wood Cemetery. We saw a few warblers, mainly parula and common yellowthroat. Not super birdy, but it was nice to get out for a walk.

We did though, get a solitary sandpiper at the cemetery, they are pretty little sandpipers.
Yesterday, what a treat, I got to go to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on my own. While it would have been cool to see the rarity black-throated gray warbler that made an appearance yesterday, I savored the freedom to move about without a stroller.
It was Cape May city, lots of Cape May warblers, flitting 2 or three at a time through the trees.

Since having the baby in the height of warbler season, I missed a lot of spring migrants. So these Cape May's were year birds for me!
Also dripping from the trees, Northern Parula.

Fall warblers are known to be confusing but quite a few are not so bad, the N. Parula being one that is not too far off from its breeding plumage.
Even the Cape May is fairly recognizable.
But this, the Chestnut-sided warbler does a complete transformation. The first fall that I saw one, I was baffled, but now I know one when I see one. And hey, this one still has some chestnut on its sides!

A great crested flycatcher was nice and low and gave some nice looks, just behind the visitors center. I always love seeing these easy-to-recognize flycatchers!

So, here is where having a baby makes birding together a little rough. This is shorebird season, and the East Pond of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is usually a good place to go for them. But you need at least, knee high boots or to be very okay with stepping into the pond, it is not a stroller friendly place. This time around there was a big fish die-off, I wouldn't want to go in without waterproof, tall boots. It was pretty.... stinky.
The water level was pretty high, not lots of exposed mud flat, but there were still birds to see.
Most of the peeps I saw were semipalmated sandpipers like this one. Also saw a few least sandpipers in the mix too.

Lots of very cute, lesser yellowlegs.

A very nice surprise were blue-wing teals. I saw them on both the east and west ponds.

Always a joy, short-billed dowitchers!

A handsome, chonky, easy-to-recognize shorebird. The kind I like!

Also recognizable by behavior, they feed with their heads down in what is described as like a sewing machine, quick, small up and down movements, their bills fully submerged in it all.

The only shot I got of a royal tern I saw over the East Pond.

This morning, the kiddo and I walked at Marine Park Salt Marsh. The grasses are greatly overgrown and tall. While I was looking at a bird, I heard something big thump through the grass. I was a little nervous because it is hard to see who is coming and with the grasses so tall, it is easy to feel very alone.

Then out popped a gorgeous male ring-neck pheasant. And ahead of him, in the grasses on the other side were a female and some nearly grown chicks.
I didn't manage to get photos of the rest of the family. The chicks were smaller, maybe only half the size of her, and very similar in appearance.

The males, as striking as they are, this cryptic coloration is pretty perfect. If it wasn't for the loud, in both color and behavior, male, I would have missed this lady 100%!

Also, exciting, but no photos, I saw my first Brooklyn Sora today! I have seen one once out west and that was it. It was nice to pick up a rarity. Like other rails, they are super secretive. I only saw it because it flew up and down into a small clearing before it escaped out of sight into the grasses. But how special, the amazing thing to me about birds and birding is that if I didn't see that bird, it is pretty likely no one would have seen it, at all. It would have continued on its migration undetected in that patch, flying off into the night to the next leg of its journey. How fortunate one is to see a bird, especially one that is far less common, and you are just a fleeting moment in its life, in its long journey that it does twice a year, all on those two wings. So amazing. And that is why birds are so addicting.

No Kestrels today, also. We did see a merlin though! And this very stately mourning dove.

Speaking of amazing migrations and feats.... how about those monarchs???

Hoping everyone is enjoying this nice stretch of weather we are having and getting their fix of local wildlife!