Friday, April 14, 2017

Stepping into Spring with a spring in your step, or something like that

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawks mating, Central Park
in spring a young hawk's fancy...

Spring is here! And resident birds are at various stages of family life. Some of the lcal Red-Tailed Hawks were already sitting on eggs by the beginning of April. Others, like the pair above that I ran across one morning in the Ramble, were just getting started on the process.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Horned Owls, Bronx NY
Great Horned Owls, not big on nest concealment this year

Some birds were even farther along. The Great Horned Owls at the NY Botanical Garden in the Bronx nested in a very prominent place this year and had nestlings by mid-March, who should be about ready to fledge by now

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Horned Owls, Bronx NY
not just one but two adorable slaughterfloofs!

Once the slaughterfloofs are ready to leave the nest, they will flutter down into nearby trees. The parents will feed them there until they can actually fly. The Botanical Garden folks are prepares to rope off the whole area while that's going on.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blue Jay, Central Park
Jay chillin'

Other residents, like this Blue Jay, will be breeding a bit later in the Spring and are just chilling for now. I've only just started seeing Robins building nests this week, though they've been singing for a month or more.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Rusty Blackbird, Van Cortlandt Park
"Rusty Blackbird" always sounds to me like a baseball player's name from the 1930s

Many birds who spent the winter in the NYC area will be moving north to nest. Rusty Blackbirds were at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx all winter as usual, and are now headingfor their mysterious breeding grounds in somewhere in the boreal forests.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Wigeon, Central Park
American Wigeon, swim away from me

Our wintering ducks will also be nesting somewhere in the north. THis female American Wigeon spent a good deal of the later winter at Harlem Meer.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Central Park
male Golden-Crowned Kinglets have the orangey racing stripe on their head

Meanwhile the first spring migrants have started moving through the area. Both kinds of Kinglets have been around, along with Chipping Sparrows. Fox sparrows have basically all left already, and the bulk of Song Sparrows have passed through, though some will stay and nest here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chipping Sparrow, Central Park
very confiding Chipping Sparrow behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Phoebes came in in a big rush around the end of March and have also mostly left by now. Still waiting to see the first Pewees and Empidonax flycatchers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Phoebe, Central Park
Phoebe, here today gone tomorrow

The first warblers have arrived--Pine, Palm, Yellow-Rumped, and now Black-and-White--but I don't have good photos yet. Also there have been several reports of Yellow-Throated Warblers, which is unusual.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Invasion of the Timberdoodles!

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock, Central Park
enjoying the stream in the morning light

The day after the big March storm, people noticed a huge fallout of American Woodcock (fondly called "Timberdoodles") in the city. (A "fallout" is when a lot of migrants descend on a place all of a sudden; usually because they;re forced by the weather.) The first #birdcp tweets came from the north end of Central Park, the Loch and Ravine area. Four, six woodcocks, um eight, no, make that twelve... Then the first report from the Ramble, two in the stream on the Point.

So I slogged into the Ramble on the way home from work. Didn't find the ones on the Point, but there were four down in the Oven in the fading light, and then two more in a stream between there and Azalea Pond.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock and Grackles, Central Park
had to share the stream with bathing Grackles, though.  noisy neighbors!

I went back in the morning. Much better light, and even more Timberdoodles. Still two in that stream, and then:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcocks, Central Park
pile o' timberdoodles

A whole pile of them in the Oven. I counted and watched, and then this little scene played out:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcocks, Central Park
into this peaceful scene...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcocks, Central Park
...came a chilly interloper from under the bank!

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcocks, Central Park
who waddled over to the pileup...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcocks, Central Park
...and pushed himself into the middle. 

So that was six in the Oven before I left for work. Meanwhile, Anders Peltomaa saw nine at the Triplets Bridge, and a Wilson's Snipe. And then the reports really got going. Tom Fiore estimated that there were at least a hundred Woodcock reported in Manhattan, and many more in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Some of these birds were in trouble. Woodcocks have a tendency to fly into building. This is a problem for many birds, but Timberdoodles especially because they don't see directly in front of them very well. Their eyes are way high and towards the back of their head, which is great for scanning for predators, but not so great for flying. According to a New York Times story, the Wild Bird Fund (local wildlife rehabilitators; great people, you should send them money) had 55 Woodcocks brought to them.

Others fared even worse. Woodcocks, as I said, have their eyes placed so they can scan for predators. They need this because they are slow and tasty, and even with the nearly 360-degree vision, they rely heavily on their excellent camouflage. When they're on a forest floor covered in leaves or pine needles, they pretty much disappear. But when thy're on snow, or the bare muddy banks of a stream...well, that's a problem. Birders watched Timerdoodles get snatched up by hawks all day long. Probably at least 50 in Central Park alone; I heard from one birder that he watched a single young Red-Tailed Hawk eat three in close succession. It was a raptor buffet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wilson's Snipe, Central Park
Wilson's Snipe!

So when I finally made it to Triplets Bridge, only three of the nine woodcock Anders had seen in the mrning were still there. But the Wilson's Snipe abided, foraging peacefully in the stream.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wilson's Snipe, Central Park

At one point he ruffled himself up and preened a bit. I've never had such a good close view of a Snipe before.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock, Central Park

The remaining timberdoodles were ware buy still active. One came out and walked across the stream near the Snipe, giving me a chance to see both of these similar birds together.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock and Wilson's Snipe, Central Park

The Wilson's Snipe by itself gives the impression of being a largish bird. It is not. It was much smaller then the Woodcock, which is itself not huge, being rather smaller than a football.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock, Central Park
in the hollow

That woodcock eventually nestled itself in a hollow, where it foraged.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wilson's Snipe, Central Park
more Snipe

Many of the surviving Timberdoodles flew out that night, but some remained in diminishing numbers. I saw one as late as Sunday in the Ramble. They should be close to finishing up migration at this point, though I know that Gabriel Willow is leading a group to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn on Saturday to see their spectacular mating flights.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Big White Birds

Just because, here's some photos of the big white wading birds of Florida.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Snowy Egret, Greek Cay
the more I look at this one, the more I like it (Snowy Egret, Green Cay)

Some of the birds at the wetlands parks are quiet used to people and go about their business within a few feet of the boardwalks.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, Green Cay
up close and personal with a Great Egret at the Green Cay boardwalk

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, Wakodahatchee
Great Egret hunting, Wakodahatchee Wetlands Park

Cattle Egrets were happy to get close as well. At Wkosahatchee, a bunch of them flew up onto the boardwalk railing only a few feet away from us.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret Wakodahatchee FL
no, you back off

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret Wakodahatchee FL
Let me tell you something, buddy...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret Wakodahatchee FL
more 'tude

I looked at this next one a long time while photographing, and then again at the photo at home. It's a Cattle Egret, too, just in a slightly different state of plumage.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Wakodahatchee FL

Here's an odd one out for the big white birds. This is a Little Blue Heron--they're white in their immature plumage:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; LIttle Blue Heron, Loxahatchee NWR
odd one out

I'll finish this up with a White Ibis in nice light:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Whte Ibis, Wakodahatchee FL
damn fine lookin' bird

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Long-Eared Owl

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Long-Eared Owl, Central Park

Birders have a complicated relationship with owls.

Owls are beautiful, and mysterious, and thrilling--the sight of a hunting owl skimming silently over a field is not something you will soon forget. So they are very desirable to see.

Owls are usually very hard to spot. They're mostly active at night, hunting in the dark. During the day, they sleep. They roost in trees, with foliage the denser the better. Other birds know owls are dangerous, so if they find one, they set up a racket to try to drive it off or at least disturb its rest. Their alarm calls attract more birds, who make more noise, which brings more birds--this is called "mobbing". For a birder, the best way to find an owl in the day is to listen for jays or crows mobbing it. In turn, jays and crows are smart and know that if a bunch of people are looking in a tree, there might be something interesting going on.

So birders want to find owls, but they worry about disturbing them, and they worry that other birders will disturb them, and they worry... anyway, a lot of birders don't like having an owl roost reported on "social media". But a lot of birders want to see owl reports. On any given mailing list or forum, there's likely to be a flame war about owl reports every six months or so.

On the Manhattan Bird Alert twitter recently, someone reported where an owl roost had been five hours before, and holy cow! the screaming. The report had been on already (I guess eBird reports don't count somehow?) and said that the bird had been flushed by Blue Jays and wasn't there anymore. Apparently, it is now unethical according to some people to suggest that a particular section of the park might be worth looking closely at. Also. it's terrible to lead people to birds instead of letting them find them themselves, according to some guy subscribed to a bird sighting alert. OK, then.

Anyway, there's also word-of-mouth.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Long-Eared Owl, Central Park

On Saturday afternoon, I was birding in Central Park. I walked down Locust Grove pondering if going straight to the Ramble would be better than a diversion through the Shakespeare Garden. Two people passed me, parents of an avid young birder. Had I heard about the owl? they asked. They told me their son had just texted them about it. He was at Inwood Hill and had gotten a text about from someone who heard t from the guy who found the owl. (Anyone remember that ad, "if you tell two friends, they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on..."?) Anyway, he said that there was a Long-Eared Owl "low in a tree in the Shakespeare Garden".

And so there was. It was quite low, about 12 feet up a Yew tree; about eye-level if you were standing on the path going up past the sundial (if you know the Shakespeare Garden, that will make sense...) where a photographer was already set up with one of those lenses that cost as much as a decent used car and weigh only a little more.

The bird was actually quite well-hidden from that vantage. I found my best views on a path farther away from the tree and a little below it on the other side. Within twenty minutes, there were around twenty people there, all standing at a fairly respectful distance. People filtered in and out; probably fifty or so came and went over the next couple of hours, the crowd size remaining pretty constant.

Birds filtered in and out as well. A few jays came around a couple of times and yelled at the owl for a few minutes; but they didn't hang around long, which was odd. Usually they keep yelling until there's a big crowd of birds around the roost.

A score or so of House Sparrows occupied a nearby tree for ten minutes or so making tsip alarm calls. Then they left. A single Titmouse visited every few minutes, scolding. All-in-all, it wasn't exactly peaceful, but it wasn't a full-scale mobbing.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Long-Eared Owl, Central Park
why not another owl photo? why not, indeed!

The owl was asleep some of the time, but woke frequently with the wild-eyed "who dares disturb me?" look that is typical of Long-Eared Owls. I'm not sure how much the people disturbed it, overall. The Shakespeare Garden is pretty well-trafficked on a nice weekend afternoon, and the path directly under the tree is normally popular. The birders were steering the crowds away from that path, and some Central Park Conservancy staff came along to watch and keep order.

Nobody tried to climb the tree. People have told me that that has happened in the Park sometimes. Also, nobody ever put the sighting on the twitter alert, which is pretty remarkable restraint. It's not clear to me whether that actually cut down on the crowd much. Most of the Park birders know each other, so the grapevine was pretty effective in getting the word out. Also, I think reports did start to show up on eBird while I was still in the Park.

I heard there was a pretty good crowd watching the owl fly out at dusk. It didn't return to the Shakespeare Garden on Sunday, or anywhere else in the Park that I heard.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Awesome Majesty

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Turkey Vulture, Loxahatchee NWR, Florida
not a good sign

I have no particular point here, just showing some more photos from Florida. This Turkey Vulture buzzed me a couple of time while I was walking around Loxahatchee Refuge. It had been a longish hike, and I was flagging a little, but I felt that the bird was a being a bit presumptuous.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Alligator, Florida
don't walk on that log!

At Wakodahatchee Wetlands Park, this alligator waited patiently for a mistake.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Florida
marching to his own beat

Nearby, some Cattle Egrets flew right up on the boardwalk railing. No fear at all.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wood Stork, Florida

A Wood Stork flew right past me at Green Cay. Quite startling; they are surprisingly quick. I was lucky to get any kind of shot at all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

South Florida retention pond

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Limpkin, Boynton Beach FL
This Limpkin walked around the pond, passing maybe 25 feet from the house. Not especially skittish.

One prominent feature of the South Florida landscape are the retention ponds. Every housing development has one, sometimes several; it's typical to see a circle of houses with a little pond in the middle.

These ponds aren't very deep, and aren't too clean, but they help contain runoff and keep oil and fertilizer and other pollutants out of the water supply. Plus, where there's water, there will be birds, especially since the ponds often have some fish in them.

Our friends Adam and Judy live in a South Florida development, and have a little retention pond in the backyard. The homeowners' association hasn't done much landscaping around it, so it's just a pool at the end of the lawn, but they still have birds, which we greatly enjoyed when we visited last month. There was a big flock of White Ibises that hung out must days like huge pigeons.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White Ibises, Boynton Beach FL
acting like they own the place

And a pair of Limpkns were frequently present.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Limpkin Boynton Beach FL
Limpkins foraging

I'm guessing they were a mated pair, since I saw them passing food between them.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Limpkin Boynton Beach FL

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Limpkin, Boynton Beach FL
At evening the Limpkins flew across the pond, giving an raspy call.

Occasionally there was a Great Egret, and once a Great Blue Heron. At sunset, ducks would settle on the pond and around the shore; usually Mottled Ducks, but our last evening there thirty or so Ring-Necked Ducks decided to spend the night there.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Blue Heron, Boynton Beach FL
Great Blue Heron on a drainage pipe

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, Boynton Beach FL
Great Egret at work

Plus there were flyovers by Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon--that really made the Ibises jump--and a visit by a Royal Tern who fished for a while and then flew on.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Royal Tern, Boynton Beach FL
Tern hovering on the hunt

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Royal Tern, Boynton Beach FL
Tern in the evening sky

Oh, I didn't even mention the Anhingas, or the Cormorants, or the Killdeer... I think we had 16 species, Just amazing stuff to find in the backyard.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

You keep your own list

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash;
count that Grebe!

There's a Simpsons episode that involves birdwatchers, and has the line: "You cannot count birds you've seen at the zoo, on stamps or in dreams." That's a good rule, but for most other cases a common saying among birders is, "you keep your own list". Unless you're in a competition, like a Big Year, what birds you count is completely up to you.

For competitive purposes, the rules can be more complicated. Was that bird just released into the wild after being rehabbed? Did it escape from a pet owner? Did it hitch a ride on a ship from Bermuda? These are all cases where you're not supposed to count the bird.

A Red-Necked Grebe showed up last Wednesday on the Reservoir in Central Park. That's a very nice bird for Manhattan. There was one who stayed for a month or so in March/April of 2014, and a handful of other sightings. I went out to see it Thursday morning and got a decent look. It was hunting happily. Its dives were interesting to watch; it levered itself up out of the water and plunged in with surprisingly little splash. That's different from (for example) a Pied-Billed Grebe, which just kind of ducks quietly underwater with little fuss.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, Central Park
A lucky shot--too blurry but I like it. Look at those feet!

This bird, it turns out, was released by the Wild Bird Fund earlier on Wednesday. It had been picked up in, I think, Brooklyn (where it's slightly more usual) with some injury, and rehabilitated by the WBF, who usually release their patients in Central Park. I thought the usually released waterfowl in the Lake, though because getting to the water's edge at the Reservoir involves going over a fence.

Look at the photo of the bird diving--see how far back its feet are? Grebes (and loons) have their feet way back on their body. That makes them faster underwater, but it also makes them very awkward on land. If you're releasing one, you probably want to put it right in the water rather than make it drag itself down a bank.

Anyway, there has been some discussion about whether people are counting the Grebe on their New York County lists. I am, myself.

Meanwhile in Berks County Pennsylvania, a bird called a Black-Backed Oriole has been seen around a feeder in a town called Sinking Spring. This is really problematic for people who keep lists, because that's a bird from central Mexico that doesn't migrate any distance. There's never been a sighting north of the border---well, that's not right. There's never been a sighting north of the border that a state records committee has decided was a real vagrant. There was one in San Diego, California that they eventually--after a couple of years--decided must be an escapee. It summered there twice, then showed up in January, and that apparently decided them against it because reasons.

So, again, except for people doing competitive listing, it doesn't matter. Go chase the bird if you chase rare birds, it's undoubtedly a hell of thing to see. I'm fine if they count it, too; everyone keeps their own list. I will say that if the records committee accepts this, I'm going to start counting this one:


That's a Yellow-Fronted Canary that showed up one Fall, foraging with Sparrows on the great Hill in Central Park. That's an impossible vagrant, and though it's on my eBird list (eBird doesn't care where a bird came from; you see it, it's on the list) I don't count it. But it's not much more unlikely as a vagrant than that Oriole, in my opinion.

I think I only count one bird on my own list that wouldn't normally be countable in competition.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; European Goldfinch, Central Park
I'm a wild one!

This European Goldfinch wintered in Central Park twice, 2011-12 and 2012-13. It flocked with House Finches until it started singing, at which point they drove it away as a dirty foreigner. Then it hung out with American Goldfinches, who (being real Americans) didn't care where he came from. He left Central Park when they left. (American Goldfinches mostly don't summer in the Park.)

I didn't see any specific evidence that he was an escapee, so I counted him. They're migratory; vagrancy is not impossible. I think they're even countable in some states farther north.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; European Goldfinch, Central Park
mysterious stranger

The European Goldfinch didn't come back after the second summer. That's probably not a good sign for his well-being, but who knows? Anyway, he's on my list.