Sunday, January 24, 2021

Birding Around Brooklyn

    I spent my weekend birding, the urge to get outside is always there, with working mainly from home. The kiddo and I had a fun day out Friday and I got some alone bird time on Saturday. We visited Prospect Park together on Friday, birding a few areas and visiting my old haunt, the zoo to see the goats and have lunch. On Saturday I traveled to Floyd, Hendrix Creek on the Spring Creek Park Side, then to Shirley Chisholm, where I birded the opposite side of the creek out to Jamaica Bay.
    The temperatures again dropped, but the baby didn't seem to mind as she napped through most of it in her cozy little cocoon bag. By Saturday, the wind had picked up, I literally had to hold on to my hat at some points, hoping not to lose it. I had almost thought Saturday a dud, but Shirley Chisholm Park was hopping.
On Friday, we began at the feeders. We enjoyed some American Goldfinch, chickadee, blue jays, and many red-winged blackbirds among other.
One unusual visitor at the feeders was this gray catbird. Normally they are south for the winter, but this one is sticking it out on free handouts.

Always to be found at the feeders, handsome Northern Cardinals.

And of course we had to go see the Northern shovelers just shoveling, After walking the very quiet Ravine and through part of the also very quiet Midwood, we birded our way to and through the zoo. It was a fun morning and afternoon with a very agreeable baby.

On Saturday, after Floyd proved barren, Hendrix Creek had a lovely showing of waterfowl, including this and a few other green-winged teal.

Out further of the shores at Shirley Chisholm State Park, both handsome male and female gadwall paired off and dabbled through the waterway.
And every look at a bufflehead panned out as such. This female, diving and hunting for her food, she didn't stop for more than a breath of air.

A bird I was hoping to see, a female common merganser, who was well hidden within a group of female red-breasted mergansers. Her white chin a differing factor between the two.

A red-breasted merganser female.

Along the paths, sparrows revealed themselves. With this song sparrows were even a few American Tree sparrow who I failed to photograph.

A nice duck to see, a common goldeneye, was happy to run into this very far off drake on a windy Jamaica Bay.

And then as I was trying to leave and this Northern Harrier just mesmerized me as it passed right overhead and quite low, due to the strength of the winds.

Grassland hunters, they are absolutely a guarantee here in the colder months.

That white tail band is a dead giveaway of a northern harrier.

More owl-like than hawk, they use their facial disks just like an owl to amplify and hunt by not just sight but also sound.

And they just sail over the grasses without much effort as the wind is strong enough to catch me off balance, this bird keeps gliding forward, nothing stopping it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Winter Waterfowl Count

     The winter waterfowl count is an annual count happening in NY State since 1955, volunteers traverse shorelines of oceans, bays, lakes, rivers, where there is water there is a count! The count is organized by the New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA). 

    I participated in counting the shoreline from Coney Island to Brighton Beach in very good company, led by my friend Ryan and their keen eyes for Alcids, Seagulls, and Grebes. Winds were sustained at 25-30mph the entirety of the walk, making looking through any optics shaky, the waves were big and birds bobbed in and out of view as they rode them. The conditions were rough, but one bright spot is that the sun was out until the very end. Had it been grey, it would have been that much colder.

    We had some good sights, the wind and shaking made photos a challenge.

We began at W 37th street and so did this parade of sanderlings-- which are not counted as part of the count. Its really just ducks, grebes, geese, and loons.

Speaking of eiders, Coney Island has an amazing showing of common eider this year. The shellfish are just splendid here and this common eider knows it! How fantastic it is to see them in such abundance here in a number of locations along our count.

The nicest place to see them is the fishing pier, where you can be close, even above them as they dive and forage.

The pier also provides a nice lookout spot for others, this close white-winged scoter was a treat. Along our route, and from the pier we sighted all three scoter species, white-winged, black, and surf.

Not part of the count, but you ALWAYS must admire them when you see them: Purple Sandpipers. They love rocks with waves hitting them, but the waves today were something else, so they took refuge on the leeside of the rock groynes. They still got splashed plenty but the wind and waves were more forgiving. The light, not so favorable for photos!

Little, perfectly round borb.

Splashing? Grains of sand? A little of both?

These little purple sandpipers are special, we are the more southern part of their winter range, these are birds of the high Arctic during the breeding season only migrating to New England and the North Eastern United States in the winter, favoring rocky shorelines. So rock groynes, and the rocks along the Belt Parkway out to the Bay and Harbor are perfect places to find them and view them at close range w/o disturbing them.

Also not countable, a Northern Gannet. Saw far less of them this winter than we did last, but we were lucky and had one close one and of course enjoyed the view. We also enjoyed some (very very distant) views of razorbill, I thank Ryan for letting me get my eyes on one through their scope.

Before leaving, YAY, a red-necked grebe! Here's a picture I got in battling against a wave and a diving bird. It was a good walk, we had some great birds and in lovely numbers. It also was nice that it was all in great company too!

For more information and past winter waterfowl counts, check out NYSOA here: 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Peregrine Prowess

     It was a fire birding day down by the water. Dovekies were being seen in large number inland. Normally a pelagic bird, to see one so close, and IN BROOKLYN would be a really really nice addition to my life list, state list, and year list.

    Prior to this moment in my life, I had only seen a dovekie once, dead, on Jones Beach. Little did I know, this would be a trend for me. 

    Dovekies are very small, they are in the same family as the great auk and let me tell you, spotting them through binoculars is very very hard. They die below the surface and like other alcids, it is believed that they too flap their wings to swim underwater. They are insanely cute, but the colony sounds like a gathering of Salacious B. Crumb's from Star Wars. 

    They are also called little auks. I like this name possibly more than dovekie. Anyway, I finally saw the dovekie, and so did others...

That little bump in this peregrine falcon's talons.
That's the dovekie I saw.
Shocking but also, who am I kidding, I'm in awe. I saw the two local peregrine sitting atop the towers of the Gil Hodges Bridge, they had the perfect spot to scope the action below.
Apparently these birds are quite easy to catch and indigenous people in their nesting range would pluck them from their nests quite easily as a food source and use their skins for clothing.
I suppose out on the high seas they also don't encounter too many peregrines...

It flew off with its prize back to the top of the tower, keeping the great black-backed gulls off its trail as it maneuvered through the air, gained altitude, and made it back to its throne.

    I had planned to bird with some friends today and take along Kestrel. I didn't let this pause our plans. We decided upon Marine Park, wouldn't it be swell if there was a stray dovekie in there? It was mostly quiet, but there were still plenty to see, and the social distanced, masked, outdoor company was nice too.
We were greeted to the marsh by American Wigeon (Male and female), ruddy ducks, gadwall, mallard, and one female hooded merganser.

In addition to this female hooded merganser, there was also a female red-breasted merganser.

And as we got further into the marsh, a familiar face.

It could very likely be one of the falcons from earlier, the Gil Hodges Bridge is easily reached from here and can be seen in the distance.

The dovekie was probably an easy grab for this bird (or its mate), peregrines can catch and kill ducks on the regular. Their speed and power truly is amazing.
So many people walked right past, little did they know the fastest animal in the world was right there, even to be seen with the naked eye.

Seconds after my one friend asked if we get raven here, a common raven appeared and flew right overhead.

We ended our walk with the female hooded merganser preening herself for the night and hopfeully staying safe as we spotted a feral cat nearby.

A Little Bit of Luck

      So, we're on a bit of a streak. A good amount of times when Kestrel comes along birding with me, we have some fantastic sights. We have experienced life birds like Connecticut Warbler, Red Crossbill, rare birds like Western Tanager, Grasshopper Sparrow, and usually this only happens when she put up a fuss. I'm thinking I interpret it as a fuss, but I think she is really saying "GIRL, ARE YOU CRAZY? STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING AND GO THAT WAY!" And then we see a common redpoll, high up in the treetops. When she naps or observes quietly, we see the regulars and nothing more. I think she channels her raptor namesake and knows where to seek out the good birds.

    We had just a day like that yesterday. We walked around Ecology Village at Floyd Bennett Field, she enjoyed a solid, quiet nap, I enjoyed.... some exercise. Walking is one thing, but walking with my birding gear and pushing (sometimes pulling) a stroller is a little something extra. It seemed like it was going to be a quiet, meh, but still thankful to get outside sort of day...

And then, we were delighted by a small group of (the cutest) field sparrows. Alright, that's a nice something! Ecology village barely gave us a northern flicker, so this was exciting. 
As I decided to extend my walk beyond ecology village toward Archery Road, Kestrel began to cry. The wind, even with a wind shield, she let her voice be heard. I changed my route and kept it short. Does she know something?
It was getting close for her next bottle, so I decided let's scope out a few places where we can bird from the car. The field next to the garden? Nothing. The runways for larks? Nope. The runway fields for harriers? Nada.
One last ditch effort, a look over the water from the boat launch lot.

Like a bright beacon, one gull stood out from all the rest, no black markings on its wingtips. A white-winged gull.
It seemed large, the ring-billed gulls smaller than it. If only to get a look at its head and bill...
Another gull displaced it, it took flight and landed on the launch...

With a turn of that block-shaped head and large black-tipped bill, confirmed for us, a glaucous gull. A good seagull to run in to in Brooklyn, and SO close and SO cooperative. Often when they find them at Bush Terminal or the Army Terminal they are so far off. You just don't really get to appreciate them and the detail of the cinnamon sprinkling throughout their juvenile plumage. This one seems like it's a first winter bird, from the looks of its plumage.

When older, they kind of look like a herring gull with no black anywhere. Just grey and white.
This is a bird of the Artic and not super common to find here, so seeing one is worth your time to savor. They are to the great black-backed gull, the second largest gull in the world.
While my eyes enjoyed this bird, I saw more white in the air to my left...

Another white-winged gull! This one looked smaller...

A look at its head and bill confirmed, an Iceland Gull!

In comparison to the larger glaucous gull, the Iceland's head is smaller and round, a smaller, less heavy bill. It is comparable in size to the ring-billed gull behind it. As its name implies, these bird typically hail from and nest in Iceland and the Arctic.

Plumage of this bird tells us it is a juvenile, probably its first winter. When mature, it's plumage is a silvery grey on its back and wings and white overall, with a red spot on its lower mandible.

A little wind (well, a lot of wind, actually), to ruffle those feathers.
I'm slowly learning that late afternoon is a nice time to catch gulls as they come in to find a roost as the day closes. Or in this case, a free handout, as any opportunistic seagull would...

A car pulled up and started throwing food stuff and the seagulls did as seagulls do, congregated, squabbled, grabbed prizes, flew off with them and returned after gobbling it down. And in this scene you can see that even the most special seagull is simply just a seagull at heart. Some of the best places to find rare gulls are garbage dumps, trash heaps, and parking lots where people throw old bread or whatever they no longer want to eat to the birds. (I do NOT condone dumping old food or feeding wildlife in this manner!)

So Kestrel was right, her crying changed my plan and here were were watching a flock of seagulls be seagulls and picking out two rarities from the very many gathered here. I swear, she knows, at least I like to pretend she does. A birder in the making? I hope so, I'd love to keep sharing these adventures with her.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

2021: New Year, New List

     The new year is an exciting time because your bird year list starts a new! Mine got off to a late start as we learned we got some COVID exposure, but thankfully in taking the right steps of utilizing masks and not gathering inside, I stayed away from birding until we could get tested and find out we were all negative in our household.

    So my year list began in Brooklyn going to Green-Wood, Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay, and Coney Island over my Friday-Saturday-Sunday last week and racking up 51 species. I got to start my year list with Kestrel and that made the start to my new bird year that much sweeter.

How interesting is this red-tail hawk, molting into its adult tail plumes! The other birds were not as excited as I was to see this red tail.

I was so intrigued by the pine siskins, landing on one specific spot on this sweetgum, eating moss/lichen? It's in its mouth! Many were gathered in this little spot and other would join in and pick at this specific spot. I wonder if there were insects or a water source. It was very interesting.

As Kestrel napped, I craned my neck to inspect every dangling finch on the sweetgum branches above. Because you never know what is in the mix...

Then I finally saw it and got this awesome picture. A common redpoll! A great bird to have on my first ebird list of the year! Also a bird I was hoping to see and we found it! 

On Saturday, I joined a friend for birding, but before meeting them I took a quick jaunt around Floyd. Was delighted by some runway horned larks.

At Marine Park, a lovely little tree sparrow gave us some nice looks at it on the main loop trail. They are just so darn cute.

Corvids are so smart and usually smart enough to keep away from people. This one thought seemed quite forgiving of our presence, just hanging out giving us some nice close good looks. Always appreciate a charismatic and kind crow.

On Sunday, before going in to work at the aquarium, I did some bird spotting from the Coney Island Pier. I got my Kings County Common Eider, I saw 4, in fact! I also enjoyed some scoters vocalizing their squeaky ridiculous calls.

Then I saw this common loon, who was practically under the pier. It is missing part of its upper mandible, clearly marking it as one tough cookie.

And then it proved just that, as it dove and resurfaced with a crab. The gulls went insane for it, but the loon dove and dove, and then just swallowed the thing whole.

So still an entire year lies ahead, and we shall see what motherhood brings as I attempt to continue birding and being a mom and tackling life. After 2020 with pregnancy, giving birth in the height of a pandemic, working from home while parenting, and birding with my daughter, all I can say is, try me, 2021...