Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Four lifers

Since my new job's location doesn't let me cross Central Park on my way to work, I expect to see a lot fewer species in Manhattan than in the last few years. So this year, I've decided to go around the City on some weekends looking for life birds. The other week it was Prospect Park and the Black-Headed Gull, and this Saturday it was Flushing Meadow Corona Park. There had been recent reports of four species I'd never seen there.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Snow Goose, Flushing Meadow Park
yes, even the Snow Goose was a life bird. Don't judge me.

After getting off the 7 train at Willet's Point--and I can't stop thinking of the stop as "Shea Stadium", I entered the old World's Fair grounds and set off looking for something called the "Garden of Meditation" where there was supposed to be a flock of Juncos with a couple of exotic sparrows mixed in.

On the way, I spotted a small concrete-ringed body of water with a lot of geese on it. Since the other two species I was looking for were geese, I diverted over there. I believe it's called the "Pool of Industry". I love the feature names from the World's Fair; they are so very Space Age.

Anyway, on the lawn next to the Pool I spotted a large white goose hanging with a big flock of Canadas. It proved to be a (very cooperative) Snow Goose. Lifer number one!

With the help of a friendly photographer who had arrived at the Pool, I scanned for the two Cackling Geese that had been reported. They're very small geese with the same pattern as Canada Geese. The small size should jump out at you. No luck. He said that he'd just come from Meadow Lake (across the highway) where the Cacklings had usually been, and they weren't there either. We went off in search of sparrows.

The Meditation Garden held no birds of any kind. The area in front of the New York State Pavilion (where the target Junco flock had also been seen) was almost as empty, except a large flock of Starlings came down nearby. After a while, the photographer packed it in--the light was crappy and it was threatening rain. I decided to walk around the New York State Pavilion.

For reference, the NYS Pavilion is the thing with the big sci-fi-looking towers featured in Men In Black. It's in poor repair, though some restoration is being done. On the path behind the Pavilion, I spotted Juncos. With them, a couple of Pine Warblers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Warbler, Flushing Meadow Park
extra attraction

The Juncos were spead out loosely between the path and a highway (there are highways running all around and through Flushing Meadow Park, thank you Robert Moses). I spotted a stripy-headed sparrow with them, but it proved to be just a White-Throated Sparrow. Then I spotted a very dull light-brown bird with a grey neck and a brown rump--the Clay Colored Sparrow. Lifer number two! He vanished quickly--Clay-Colored Sparrows are very good at vanishing--but then I spotted the boldly-patterned Lark Sparrow.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Lark Sparrow, Flushing Meadow Park

Lifer number three! He was at some distance, but shortly afterward there was a brief rain shower. The flock went up into the trees and I caught the Lark Sparrow posing. When it flew to a different tree, I noticed that it passed another brown sparrow.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Clay-Colored Sparrow, Flushing Meadow Park
cryptic sparrow

That is not really an identifiable view of a Clay-Colored Sparrow but it was the best photo I got of it.

Next I crossed over the highway to Meadow Lake in the southern part of the park. It was immediately apparent that the lake was mostly frozen over, and that there were no geese of any description on it. A smart man would have gone back. I decided to walk around the lake.

Considering that the terrain is quite flat, the walking was difficult. Very muddy in spots. Lots of Mallards and gulls on the lake shore, and some coots in the few open-water stretches, but not much else. A couple of Song Sparrows in the phragmites.

The south end of the lake seemed to recede as I walked on. Stubbornly I pushed on. At length I reached a playground and sat down at a picnic table to contemplate the bad life choices that had led me to this place.

Well, it seemed it was farther to go back then to continue around, so continue I did. I watched a rather dark Red-Tailed Hawk take off from a tree. after rounding the tip of the lake, I realized that the path ahead was fenced off. It would have been nice of the Parks Department to have signs up early on saying that the path around the lake wasn't passable.

Being tired and stubborn, I went on. I wound up walking along the highway off-ramp for a considerable distance, great fun. At length I completed the circuit and returned to the northern part of the park.

There I found birders in front of the NYS Pavilion, mostly from the Brooklyn Bird Club. The Junco flock was on the grass there, and they were tracking the special sparrows, which was not easy in the late-afternoon light.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Where's Waldo? (1)
where's Waldo?

But I did get looks at both the Clay-Colored and the Lark Sparrow again. Then I moved on, back to the Pool of Industry--for some reason I really want to put that in all-caps, but I'll resist--and another look for the Cackling Geese.

I have never seen so many geese in such a small area. They had all left the lawn. The Pool of Industry is an oval, maybe 120 feet long, and there were easily 500 Canada Geese in it, and the back end of it wasn't even full, just a few gulls there. So the geese were all crowded into, I don't know, a tenth of an acre? A few hundred square yards. It was Grand Central Station in there. I did not see any notably small geese.

The Brooklyn crew arrived. They didn't have any luck either. ("That one seems small" "Maybe? A little." [a minute later] "I can't find it in the crowd anymore." "That's not a good sign.")

Geese began to fly out in tens and twenties and thirties. That should make oddities easier to spot...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Where's Waldo? (2)
where's Waldo, part two. This was a bit later, with even fewer birds, so it's easy.

And then I saw them. "Hey, how about those? That group of four, the ones in the front look very small."

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cackling Geese and Canada Geese, Flushing Meadow Park
Boom! There it is.

And so they were. Lifer number four!

I watched the for a while--they hung out, mostly pretty close together. I think they found the larger Canadas a bit intimidating.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cackling Geese and Canada Goose, Flushing Meadow Park
intimidating goose

All in all, six and a half hours in Flushing Meadow, six miles walked, four life birds. A good day.

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