Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Butcher Bird in the North-Forty.

     This week has been rough. Day light savings messed up our perfect, sleeps through the night baby. Which messed up us. Which made work very challenging this week. The ripple affect just progressed day-by-day. By Friday, I was toast. I spent my day off (cleaning) and trying to catch a nap. Birding, oddly, was just not my primary goal.

    So today, I got a decent night of sleep, was looking forward to some leisurely birding, and then I saw the notification about a Northern Shrike, just 10 minutes from home. I usually don't get along with chasing birds, so I clenched my jaw for the 907,5674,999th time this week and thought to myself, "just wait, make sure it is sticking around before you run off to chase a dream." So I enjoyed my breakfast with my family and then I saw that it was still being seen. Time to go.

    After parking, a kid comes running up, asking if I was looking for the Northern Shrike. I said I was. I could tell this kid was serious, I was happy to help him and his grownup get to the North Forty, the part of the field where it was being seen. 

    We walked into the trail that takes you back to the Return-a-Gift Pond, and then he put up his bins, and yelled "shrike!" And there it was, the Northern Shrike. Damn, he reminded me of such an important rule: LOOK AT EVERYTHING. I saw that bird and initially thought to myself, Mockingbird, but nope, it was a shrike, giving a mockingbird a run for its money. And then I also thought to myself, what a fantastic young person this was. He had a lot of cool bird experiences and I owe him, for helping to get me a life bird, let alone a life bird here in Brooklyn. I wish him many more good birds!

The Northern Shrike is a bird of prey disguised as a song bird.
This bird looks so, innocent, right?
Just wait till it turns its head...

Also known, affectionately(?), as the butcher bird. That hooked bill is used to behead birds, rodents, grasshoppers, small reptiles... they are known for using twigs and barbed wire as a place to impale its prey and help hold it tight while it, butchers it into small bite-able bits and even better to store it there for later - ain't that cute?
This bird, showing that light scalloping on its belly tells us this is an immature bird. Does that make this one an apprentice butcherbird?

This bird is truly carnivorous, that little hook on their bill is their killing tool, it can help to quickly kill their prey. 
These birds are also truly northern, before this, I'd only seen loggerhead shrike, similar to these, but denizens of the south and as their name implies, they have thick necks and heads.
They nest in the arctic and in the winter live in the Northern parts of NYS and other northern and mountainous states of the lower 48. So it's a real treat to see one here, in Brooklyn. 

I decided that I had great looks at the shrike, and wanted to keep enjoying the day. I decided to head over the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The West Pond was full of snow geese, usually they are on the east pond or the surrounding marshy islands. So to see so many close, and flying overhead was a real treat.
Also, that yawn!!!

Good birds, good weather, and finally, a good night of sleep-- oh AND good pizza for lunch. That is a banner day!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Birding With my Little Partner

     At this point, with a 10 month old birding can go incredibly well or off the rails. I also find myself very flustered just trying to get out the door, making sure I am very well prepared for taking her out, it's a much longer process to get out the door. And sometimes she just doesn't want to be in the stroller.

    This last week she begun to go on a sleeping spree (I think she is having a growth spurt, apparently this is a thing) which makes going birding a touch easier. The gentle bumps and uneven ground lull her into the deepest of naps. We both benefit.

    This last week, we together visited Marine Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. The weather finally felt like spring, and I think the fresh air benefitted us both.

So, let me tell you about trying to remember everything...
I walked to Marine Park with the stroller, did a nice brisk pace - the baby weight is off, but I could, um.... shape up... And I throw my birding pack in the stroller, open it up when we get to the nature trail annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd no binoculars.
No binoculars, only a camera, and of course, no strap for said camera.
So I pushed a stroller one handed, used a camera in lieu of binoculars, and tried my ears at birdsong.
And some birds maybe had some empathy and approached us. This chickadee came within 12 feet of us, even PAUSED. But of course, stick.
So really clear photos of a chickadee.... with stick. Can't get 'em all!

As we walked the trail, we noted how many human footpaths have been carved entering the marsh and grasslands, it's a shame there is zero enforcement of park rules. We, who we kidding, she was sleeping at this point, I enjoyed a very close and not shy song sparrow, foraging in the grasses just off trail.

Normally these birds are super skulky, but this one saw us (and our hulking stroller) and just kept on skipping around in the brush.

We'll be saying goodbye to them soon, but for now, they just keep on shoveling.

On our trip to Green-Wood today, we birded for THREE WHOLE HOURS, with only 3 minutes worth of crying. That my friends, is a big W for my book.
Now, we did make sure we took a diaper/snack/snuggle break to make sure we could stretch those little legs. We also sand a lot of little songs to the birds (she has picked up this habit of repeating some high pitch "do-do-do's" and swaying as she sings them. So, I've reinforced that behavior because she gets really happy doing it, so if you saw us singing together while we birded, it's just our thing.
Now upon our arrival, this red tail was swooping at the ducks, causing a bit of drama, so from that moment, I could tell we were going to have a good time out.

So let's talk about why we're really in Green-Wood.

The Timberdoodles, Bog Suckers, American Woodcocks, Potatoes ... they're here!
It's also a real treat to see them and enjoy the view because if they spook and flush, it's mostly a sudden heart attack, in what you get.
These birds are migrating to their nesting grounds and Green-Wood is one of a few Brooklyn Locations that they can be quite dependable to find, when the season is right.

You can see why these birds are often spooked, practically underfoot sometimes. Their cryptic patters are just absolutely perfect camouflaged. They are often hunkered down and remain still to rely on their ability to blend in, but if you're lucky, sometimes you do get to see the "dance," which is presumed to be a way to move the ground underfoot to help coax their favorite food, worms, toward the surface where they can easily be snagged by a hungry woodcock. 

Additional bonus bird: Hermit Thrush.

And first warbler of spring unlocked, Pine Warbler!!!
I thank my little Kestrel for being the best baby today, between the warm weather, the birds, and some tough few weeks of working while momming, I REALLY needed this.
We celebrated at home with a picnic in the backyard in the warm sun.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Green-Wood Cemetery 3.6.21

     I had a little time to myself this past Saturday to go out and do some birding. Most mom's have their mom time doing all sorts of things, maybe the salon, a spa, I have no idea what typically moms do when they have "me time," but I enjoy doing some birding, then pick up dumplings and bubble tea.

    I headed over to Green-Wood Cemetery and upon entry, the action began with raptors overhead.

A local cele-birdy, "Rover," the 3.5 year old bald eagle (you can tell by their plumage) was right overhead as I entered the cemetery. He even took a glance it me, it seemed.

I found most of the action to be around the Dell Water, there were very many American robins flipping leaves and digging around for insects. A sign of spring is watching these birds' diets change from winter berries to insects.

In addition to many robins, there were also very many mourning doves around the Dell, foraging for seeds on the ground.

Around the feeders, and foraging on the ground were house finches. Who were also busy singing their song. As the birds sing, it gives me hope that warm days are ahead.

And then, I spotted my favorite sparrow.
Fox sparrows are so good.

Big, bold, and similar plumage to myself, I love everything about these sparrows.

They will soon be heading to their breeding grounds, well North of here. I'll miss them.

Monday, March 1, 2021

A Singing Wigeon

     You ever hear an American Wigeon sing its majestic song? It opens its mouth and with all its might give the wheeziest, nasal squeak. Like an old rubber ducky toy in a tub, water logged, with a questionable culture of mildew growing inside, but given a big enough series of squeezes, a long drawn out, nasal squeaks will erupt. That is the sound of the American Wigeon.

    I saw one last week after work at the park on the way home. And this fella was in a musical mood.

This handsome fella, the drake American Wigeon was out to impress.
Soon They will be going back north to nest, so this guy has some work to do.

And there he goes.
If you still need some help, imagining the majesty of his call, I'll help you out:

... And he was not stopping!
Folks may not realize that the mallard quack we all know, is definitely not what all ducks sound like, in fact different species make all kind of different sound. Some are pretty whacky, I can't wait to teach them all to my kiddo.

Unfortunately there were no wigeon hens anywhere nearby to hear his beautiful crooning. But my heart was touched by those sweet little squeaks.