Monday, January 27, 2014

A Grand Day Out

Sunday I trekked out to Randall's Island to look for a Barnacle Goose that had been reported there on Saturday. A Barnacle Goose, if an actual wild bird (as this appears to be), is a very rare find in New York. When I arrived at the north end of the island, I quickly located the bird, foraging on the exposed mud of the channel north of the island with a flock of 150 or so Canada Geese and a couple of Brant. They took to the water shortly after.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Barnacle Goose, Randall's Island
Barnacle Goose amid Canada Geese, Randall's Island

After taking some photos, I scanned the vicinity for whatever else might be around. I saw a group of Red-Breasted Mergansers out in the main stream of the East River, and with them, a diving bird that didn't look like one of them, but they were too far off to make anything of it.

My attention was diverted when a small group of geese, the Barnacle, took off and flew to the nearby baseball field just south and east of the path. The snow was relatively thin there, and they foraged on the exposed grass.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Barnacle Goose, Randall's Island

They were soon joined by others, including a Brant, who was about the same size as the Barnacle. I could never get a clear view of them together for a photo. (More Barnacle photos are at

Another birder told me some Snow Buntings were present on the northeast shore between field 31 and the shore, so after having my fill of the Barnacle, I headed off that way. I stopped just east of the saltmarsh first to have another look around.

The mergansers and the odd bird were a little closer, though still quite distant. I could see that the odd diver was a little smaller.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, East River off Randall's Island

It turned into the light a bit more, and I saw it had a larger and very pointy bill, and a strong face pattern. But I still had no idea what it was. It didn't match anything in a quick flip through my Peterson.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, East River off Randall's Island

The diver them moved off towards the Bronx shore east of the <i.Post</i> building, and I moved off to find the Buntings.

I think this is the Red-Necked Grebe reported by Angus Young the same day. That's another very nice bird for New York. My photos are all poor because of distance, but I've put all the legible ones in a set: All those are radically cropped, but otherwise straight from the camera; the ones above have had their brightness and contrast boosted as well.

The Snow Buntings, four of them, were where they were supposed to be. When I came up, they were foraging on the grass.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Snow Bunting, Randall's Island

A snowplow drove past the area, and they flushed into a small tree along the shore and eyed me suspiciously.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Snow Buntings, Randall's Island

I moved on south. The marsh area at Little Hell Gate Inlet was sparse--a few ducks and geese, and a Downy Woodpecker frantically working on a small tree branch. The "Water's Edge Garden" area between the inlet and the Ward's Island Bridge had a lot of Canada Geese and the usual gulls, but nothing very special.

By the time I got to the bridge, the weather--which had been pleasant though cold--had turned cloudy and dampish. I considered just crossing the bridge and heading home, but decide to have a look at the south shore first. And I'm glad I did, because there, near a small flock of geese, was a Horned Grebe.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Horned Grebe, Randall's Island
Horned Grebes are perfectly nice birds, but their eyes make them look like demon-birds from Hell.

I watched him swim and dive for a while as it began to snow.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Horned Grebe, Randall's Island

Finally it got quite unpleasant as the snow began to blow hard, so I retreated across the bridge and made my way home.

Barnacle Goose, Red-Necked Grebe, and Horned Grebe are all life birds for me, and boost my New York County total for the year to 65.

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