Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Nesting season (part 1)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on nest, Governor's Island
The Heron Is In

It's nesting season! Out on Governors Island, the Yellow-Crowned Night Herons have returned. The nest they used last year was destroyed somehow during the winter, so they relocated to near the Harbor School. These photos were taken near the end of June I wonder if they've got hatchlings yet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on nest, Governor's Island
time for a stretch and a scratch

The Common Terns seemed to be doing well; their nest colony isn't in plain view at their new location (their half of Yankee Pier collapsed during the winter and they're now on Tango Pier, which is entirely closed to people) but I could see one fledgling on the pier. Too far for a decent photo, though.

Some birds have fledged their young already (at least their first round, many will renest). Here's a baby Cardinal from Central Park:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cardinal fledgling, Central Park
the dark beak is a sign of youth in a Cardinal

and a recently fledged Blue Jay:

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

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blue Jay fledgling, Central Park
yelling for food

and the Common Grackles have had a good year so far:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Grackle fledgling, Central Park
time to feed the baby

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Grackle fledgling, Central Park
kids are so demanding

More soon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

One thing about birding is, you never know what's going to turn up.

Saturday I went out to Governor's Island. I wanted to look for this year's Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest, which I had a heck of a time finding, and check on how the Common Tern colony was doing, and see what else might be around.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

I found a nest up a tree sort of in the area the Heron was supposed to be, and watched it for a half-hour or so. It turned out to be the wrong nest. Oh well. Since I was close to the west edge of the island, I took a break to see what might be on the water. I spotted some terns and Laughing Gulls down the shore and decided to stroll over there and try to get some photos of the birds fishing. I was interrupted by a couple who wanted me to take their picture.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

It pays to be polite. It was only after I had finished that that I spotted an odd black duck swimming south maybe twenty yards out. I might have missed it if I had gone trotting off towards the gulls. It turned out to be a Scoter, which is unusual in this area in June--they should all be up around Hudson's Bay--and almost unheard of in New York County at any time. Almost all of the eBird sightings are from right after Hurricane Sandy--water birds often get blown great distances in storm systems.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

This bird is a Surf Scoter, I believe--the bill is quite distinctive, though Surf Scoter males usually have big white patches on the forehead and nape of the neck (fishermen call them "skunk coots"). However, I think young males can show this all-dark plumage, and that black spot at the base of the bill really doesn't occur in other Scoters. This appears to be the first sighting of a Surf Scoter at Governor's Island. It's also probably the coolest bird I've ever found myself.

I eventually found the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest. I'll talk about that some other time, though.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Looking back at Spring (part 2)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Worm-Eating Warbler, Central Park

Another bird I got a better-than-usual look at this Spring was Worm-Eating Warbler. Usually they're hard to find in Central Park in the Spring, but this year there were several good sightings, mostly along the south short of Turtle Pond.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Worm-Eating Warbler, Central Park

Worm-Eating Warblers are more frequent in the park in Fall, when they tend to creep through the dead leaves on the ground in shady spots. They are pretty cryptic in that setting. These Spring migrants, though, liked the catkins in the oaks, pretty high off the ground but sometimes coming down almost to eye level. The oaks at Turtle Pond are set well back from the fenced path, but it was still a pretty good view.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Worm-Eating Warbler, Central Park

because of the distance and light, these photos didn't come out quite as well as I had hoped, but it was still quite a nice view of the bird.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Looking back at Spring (part 1)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

So how have you all been? Had a good Spring migration? Mine was good, but I didn't have my act together to post about it. Too many photos, too little time. I really need to come up with a better workflow. And now Summer is beginning, and the migration has passed, and it'll be another year before I get to do it again.

Anyway, it was a pretty good migration season. There were a lot of birds, although some of the "normal rarities" didn't show up much--I don't think anyone had a Prothonotary or Cerulean Warbler, for example, not in Central Park, maybe not anywhere in Manhattan.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

I never ran into a real "magic tree", but I did have a nice long encounter with a Bay-Breasted Warbler, right where the Belvedere Caste plaza ends and the steps down to the Ramble start.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

He foraged in one tree for a good half-hour, frequently at eye-level, and in really good light. I was amazed how his cap glowed in the sunlight.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Out-of-Towners

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
Cattle Egret on the prowl

It's migration season! And of course New York City is getting pretty much every type of warbler found in the northeast, just like every Spring. Enjoy them while you can!

But we're also seeing some very unusual visitors. At the top of this post, we have a Cattle Egret--I think the first every seen in Manhattan--who has been hanging around at the Penn South co-op, around 28th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue in Manhattan.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
Rare bird and common passers-by

Cattle Egrets are originally an African bird, showed up in South America in the 1950s, and have been steadily extending their range over the last few decades. They're quite common now in the southern US--basically a roadside bird in Florida, for example.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
on the move

However, it's rare up north. I believe one shows up at Jamaica Bay or Jones Beach once in a while, but that's all. It's in good breeding plumage--the off-white crown and back feathers--but I don't think it's going to find a mate up here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
Not much of an environment--but enough

The area you see the Cattle Egret in here is (so I understand) having some construction work done on it, but the bird is still around a little farther south, still on the grounds of Penn South. Worth a visit if you're in Manhattan. Keep an eye out for other birds when you're there--there were some warblers about when I visited.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wild Turkey, Central Park
Wild Turkey, Central Park

A Wild Turkey showed up in the North Woods of Central Park a couple of weeks ago. Turkeys are not unknown in the City. I'm told there are some in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, and even in Manhattan there are reports occasionally from Inwood Hill. And of course there was Zelda the Battery Park turkey, killed by a car a couple of years back after a long life there. Still, they're pretty rare here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wild Turkey, Central Park
official vehicle, unofficial bird

I was emerging from the Ramble after an afternoon's birding, and I saw David Barrett looking at something at the edge of the Ramble Maintenance parking area. Surprise! The North Woods turkey had been one the move. We watched the bird scratching through leaves and pecking at the grass for a while, until some idiot chased it across the lawn and it flew up a tree.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wild Turkey, Central Park
I think I'll just stay up here. To heck with you people.

The turkey continued moving south through the park the next day, and wound up at the lawns around Seventh Avenue and 59th Street. I think it's still there--it seems to be smart enough to avoid traffic and dogs.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Least Bittern, Central Park
Least but not last

On Sunday, a Least Bittern was spotted perched high up in a tree over the Gill in the Ramble in Central Park. This small egret is very unusual in this area. I asked long-time bird photographer Peter Post if there had ever been one in Central Park before. He said he had seen one--sixty years ago!

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Least Bittern, Central Park
Least Bittern, lurking

There appears to have been one since then, seen by legendary bird guide Starr Sapphire in 1989. But anyway, wow.

Up a tree, by the way, is not where you'd expect to find such a bird. It would like t be down in the tall reeds at the edge of a pond or stream with some tasty fish in it. Alas, reeds are in short supply in Central Park these days. I suspect the bird was waiting for dusk--if all the large mammals would just go away, it would chance a fishing expedition at Azalea Pond.

Anyway, you never know what might turn up in Manhattan.

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 woodcock...no, 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.