I work across the street from St Bartholomew's Church, which is in midtown Manhattan on Park Avenue. It has a tiny garden which attracts a number of migrants (and which I've written about once before). Recently I saw a couple of new species in the park--rather late in the afternoon both times, so I didn't get any usable photos; I;m going to use that as an excuse to post some old ones.
I saw a dark shape walking by the wall of the church. It was too large for an Ovenbird (which I've seen there once or twice this Fall), but I couldn't imagine a pigeon skulking in the shrubs like that. I went around to the church steps, where you can look down into the garden, and found a Woodcock sitting under an evergreen shrub.
It was an interesting vantage point. The bird was facing straight away from me--I was behind and above it, but it's eyes are so placed that it was staring right up at me. It's a startling thing to see up close. They really do have eyes in the back of their head.
There were a pair of Gray Catbirds in the garden for a while. Last year, one catbird overwintered. However a couple of weeks back, I spotted a Brown Thrasher in the garden at dusk, and both it and the catbirds seemed agitated--the Thrasher was flitting in and out of the shrubs, and the catbirds were sitting in the tree above them and calling loudly. The next day, they had all gone. It's a mystery.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Monday, October 23, 2017
large flying things
I was at Jamaica Bay a few weeks ago looking for the American Avocet that spent a long time at the East Pond. I didn't find it that day, but near sunset, I took a last look from the overlook near Big John's Pond. There was nothing exciting on the water, but when I looked overhead, I saw a huge white bird flying south.
It was already past me when I spotted it, but I got my binoculars up and say it was an American White Pelican. I thought I wouldn't be able to get a decent photo, but luckily it turned at the south end of the pond and flew back toward the north, and I got some good flight shots of it.
The American White Pelican is mostly a western bird, though some winter in Florida. We get occasional vagrants; there was even a pair that overwintered at Jamaica Bay in 2015-16. It's probably the best bird I've seen that I didn't know was there beforehand.
I'm glad I went for the bins first, by the way. I don't think I would have gotten an identifiable photo if I had grabbed then camera first. The view in the binoculars was good enough that even if the Pelican had kept on going, I would have had an ID. People who say "pics or it didn't happen" can bite me--it just doesn't work that way, not always.
The Pelican was still around the next morning, and several people got to see it. Then it was gone. I finally saw the Avocet a couple of weeks later--a terrible view through the scope, but at least I saw it. (For that matter, it was way out of range for my camera, and I can't seem to get the hang of digiscoping, so I don't have proof that I saw it; see above.)
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Earlier in the summer, soon after the young Red-Tailed Hawks from Pale Male's brood had fledged, I spotted one of them in a tree along the 79th Street Transverse. It called occasionally, a creaky version of an adult hawk's scream. As I drew nearer, I realized that the young hawk was being mobbed by a single Eastern Kingbird, who I knew was nesting nearby.
This is the only time I've seen the red crown on a Kingbird. It's usually hidden, but this was one angry bird.
The Kingbird made pass after pass at the hawk, sometimes going away for a few minutes then returning again. On every close approach, teh hawk would screech.
The Kingbird was actually striking the hawk occasionally, though I didn't manage the catch that in camera.
The hawk eventually decided he'd has enough, and flew off. The Kingbird's young fledged a couple of weeks later, and you'd see the parents feeding them around Turtle Pond.
Monday, July 24, 2017
A well-known location for nesting Piping Plovers is at the tip of Breezy Point, which is as far west on the Rockaways as you can go. It's a pain in the neck to get to--I don't drive and even if I did, Breezy Point is a private community with no parking for non-residents. To get there, you have to go to Fort Tiden and then hike along the beach for a couple or three miles, except it's not clear that you can do that because the community claims beach is also residents-only (and how that can be legal is beyond me). The books an websites about birding the area suggest wither walking the beach anyway, or taking an ATV path from the fisherman's parking lot. Anyway, it's a hassle, but Piping Plovers.
It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. As soon as I reached the beach at Fort Tilden, I started seeing American Oystercatchers. They nest in the dunes there, and sometimes right on the beach, and there's ropes indicating where you shouldn't go.
As I started walking west, I spotted some juveniles, and also some pairs who appeared to be doing courtship--making scrapes on the sand, moving side by side in sync, and so on.
As I was photographing the Oystercatchers, I became aware that the section of beach I was passing seemed to be clothing-optional. You might think that would be important enough to mention in the websites about birding the area (or for that matter the books about NY area birding), but you would be wrong.
After a spirited discussion with a couple of beachgoers about the uses and virtues of telephoto lenses, I continued west, but I hadn't gone fifty yards before I spotted something very small moving in the beach grass.
Oooh! Piping Plovers! I had't expected them at all in this area. The dunes here weren't even roped off; one or two people were sitting in the dunes. I actually saw the chicks first:
There were about four chicks, I think, and two adults nearby.
Having seen the Piping Plovers I didn't feel a need to go all the way to the Breeze Point tip. I went as far as the fisherman's parking lot (permit only) and the "Surf Club". The club certainly does their best to make it look uninviting to walk past it own the beach, and I didn't see anything looking like a path leading west from the parking lot. I did walk from the lot up to Rockaway Point Boulevard. Lots of songbirds singing, especially Towhees and Song Sparrows, and some Red-Winged Blackbirds who did their best to convince me I should be elsewhere. I did find them a little more alarming than the sunbathers.
On the way back up the beach, I spotted more Piping Plover adults in the roped-off areas.
And more OysterCatchers.
It was a nice visit. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
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.
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:
the dark beak is a sign of youth in a Cardinal
and a recently fledged Blue Jay:
yelling for food
and the Common Grackles have had a good year so far:
time to feed the baby
kids are so demanding
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.