Thursday, May 28, 2015

Things I haven't seen

Almost every time I go out birding, I see things I haven't seen before. Memorial Day weekend was particularly rich.

On Saturday, I went up to Randall's Island for the first time in a couple of months. It wasn't terribly productive, but there was a Killdeer at the salt marsh on the north shore of the island. That's not too unusual, but its behavior was not what I'm used to seeing.

The Kildeers I've seen there are usually transients and quiet; this one was calling constantly, as befits its scientific name (Charadrius vociferus, which is Latin for "loudmouth plover"). The call wasn't the killdeer that given it its common name, but a several long high peeps followed by a descending series of short notes.

And then it flew off the rocks in the saltmarsh to the baseball field, ran several steps, and flung itself in the infield dirt with one wing stretched out.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Killdeer distraction display, Randall's Island

A distraction display! I'd never seen one. It must have a nest in the marsh area. I hope that works out OK, but between the starlings, the grackles, and the gulls, I'm a little dubious.

There was also a Laughing Gull, my first of the year, hanging out with some Ring-Billed Gulls on the outfield of another baseball diamond, and giving me a good view.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island
gull, Laughing and loafing

Sunday was a glorious day to be out in Central Park, but not if you were a starling who got a little too close to this Black-Crowned Night Heron.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-Crowned Night Heron eating a starling
nature red in tooth and claw

I've seen herons eat baby birds before, but this was a full-sized adult, and he had a great deal of trouble swallowing it. He eventually got it down, but looked quite saturnine afterward.

Monday I made an excursion to the northern part of Central Park. at the Pool (about 103rd street on the west side), I saw ... um, well. I saw two male Mallards mating.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Male Mallards mating, Central Park
well, I never!

I see from Teh Google that this is not rare, but I had never seen it before. It was clearly mating behavior, and not fighting, because they did the typical head-bobbing display at each other before one ducked down in the water and the other mounted.

Things were pretty quiet otherwise. Up at the the compost area on The Mount, where sometimes shorebirds stop off to browse in the ditches, there was a family of House Wrens with just-fledged young begging for food.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Baby House Wren, Central Park
baby House Wren

Thinking about it, I don't recall ever seeing baby wrens before.

Back downtown in the Ramble, there's a Warbling Vireo nest. It's one of many in the park this year, but it's unusual in being clearly visible from the ground and not too high up. So with luck I'll have several weeks of rare views of Vireos raising their young.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Warbling Vireo on nest, Central Park
Warbling vireo on nest

The male sings constantly while taking his turn on the nest, by the way. Quite charming. Also, those are spiderwebs all over the outside of the nest--an excellent structural material. Many thanks to Martin Sandler for pointing out the nest. Although it's fairly out in the open, I still would never have spotted it myself.


  1. Hi Ed, I had a similar experience with a killdeer the other day, it reacted to me with loud protests, full tail fanning showing all the colors and drooping both wings. I realised there was one blue egg in a scrape as it popped up - it'd chosen to nest on a small grass median in the middle of a parking lot in Jersey City... not sure how that will work out for it... but it was amazing to see the behavior from a few feet away!

  2. Hi Dominic, thanks for commenting. That's a crazy place to nest, yeah. I wonder what possessed it to pick that spot--who knows what goes on in a bird's mind?