Thursday, June 28, 2018
It's nesting season, and woodpeckers are among the busy birds in Central Park. The the end of May I spotted the female Downy Woodpecker excavating a willow tree at the east end of Turtle Pond.
Downys nested there a couple of years back, too. I think the tree is pretty rotten at this point, so the wood is soft enough for a little beak like a Downy's to dig in. The limb she was working on extended over the water, and I watched sawdust float down to the surface of the pond as she worked.
The male took part in the digging, too. I don't remember that from last time. The hole got quickly deeper over the next few days, with more and more of the bird disappearing into it as it worked
Finally I saw the female disappear into the nest hole, and then poke her head out. That was about the fourth of June. I figured she must have laid eggs then, and they'd probably hatch about mid-month.
A week later, I noticed that the area of the hole looked different, as if more excavation had been done. And I didn't see the birds, though I could hear the whinnying call of a Downy occasionally on the south side of the pond. Maybe they were mostly keeping in the nest, on the eggs.
Unfortunately, no. The next day I saw a gang of about five juvenile Starlings poking around the hole. They or their elders must have raided the nest. Starlings are also cavity-nesters, and they're tough birds that are hard to compete with.
In the Ramble, there was a pair of Northern Flickers nesting near the bend in the Gill. When I saw them, the female was in the nest hole, and the male was calling from somewhere nearby. I was told that she had been coming out frequently and they'd been seen mating, but now she was staying in the hole. Possibly she was on eggs already.
Alas, once again, a couple of days later Starlings were seen in the nest hole, having evicted the Flickers.
Meanwhile, uptown, the nest of Red-Tailed Hawks at Grant's Tomb ran into some problems. Around the time the young were fledging, the male hawk apparently flew into a window hard enough to break it, and has not been seen since. Then the mother hawk lost an argument with a car and was taken to a rehabber where it was discovered to have some problems from ingesting rat poison. That left three fledglings with nobody to feed them, but mobile enough to be hard to catch; eventually they were caught and brought to rehab centers.
There's a series of posts about the Grant's Tomb nest at the Urban Hawks Blog, June 10, June 11, and June 14; and at the Morningside Hawks blog (I hadn't know about that one before!) on June 10, June 13, June 14, and June 17.
I hear the female has actually been released now, but not the fledglings yet--a single parent would have some trouble feeding three fledglings who can't hunt yet. The young birds are losing important time in learning to hunt.
It's a hard life, being a bird.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Here's some photos I unearthed from the archives. These were taken five years ago, on a walk through the Ramble in Central Park. Walking along the water's edge on the Point, I encountered a Black-Crowned Night Heron.
Frankly, I almost walked right into him, but he was a little too busy to worry about me.
The heron struggled with that frog for quite a while. He kept bashing it on logs and tree roots. Once in a while he'd half-release it in the water, I guess to see if it was still struggling. As far as I could see, it wasn't--I think it might have been dead already.
I believe he was mostly having trouble figuring out how to swallow it. That was one of the largest frogs I've ever seen in Central Park.
Eventually I had to leave to go to work. The heron still had his own work to finish when I left.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Part one: the immediate aftermath (posted on Twitter Friday night)
the Kirtland's Warbler of legend
Six hours later, I'm still wired from seeing the Kirtland's Warbler that showed up in Central Park this afternoon.
Never in my life expected this bird to show up in New York City. Incredible.
Kevin Topping found the bird just after 5pm and tweeted the location. I got there at 6:25, and there were 80+ people already there watching it.
The warbler was in an oak between the West Drive and the bridal path, and cyclists and runners stopped and asked what the heck we were looking at, so we told them about Kirtland's, the migration, the whole saga of the conservation of this extremely endangered little bird...
It was great. One of my best birding experiences. Thanks, Kevin. Thanks, bird.
Good night, all.
good night, bird
Part two: what makes this bird so great
what, it's not obvious?
So why was I--and all these people--so excited about this little bird? I mean, it's a nice enough looking bird, but there are a number of prettier warblers.
Well, to start with, Kirtland's Warbler is probably the rarest songbird in North America. There's only three thousand or so. The saga of their conservation is pretty amazing.
And, none have ever been seen in New York City before (I think this is the third record in the whole state). They breed in Michigan, and a few spots in Wisconsin, and they winter one some of the more isolated of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands. Third migration route seems pretty direct, so it goes nowhere near here, and they're rarely spotted in migration anyway.
ready for launch
All the places they live are isolated, and protected for conservation, so it takes some serious planning to see them even when they're where they're supposed to be. For 98% of the people out there, this was not just a life bird but a once-in-a-lifetime bird.
Part three: the saga continues
with a tasty snack gleaned from the leaf above
The warbler was still there on Saturday, so Elena and I went to see it. Our field Elissa joined us...and the hundred or more birders, photographers, journalists, and curious passers-by at the site (west of the Reservoir, about 91st Street).
He was a very cooperative bird. I noticed he was doing a lot more hover-gleaning (that's when a bird jumps up and flutters in place to grab bugs off the underside of a leaf above it) than it had done on Friday, and I was able to get one decent action shot.
warbler in action
I say "he", because he sang a bit in the early morning. He was still there Sunday morning, but wasn't seen after the rain stopped. He was likely still somewhere in the area and still might be re-found. And if not--
Often I feel a little sad about seeing a rare vagrant bird, because it's normally unlikely it will ever find its way back to it's normal range again. But the Kirtland's is on the right side of the right continent, and should have no problem finding a habitat with suitable food this summer. So I think that it has good chance to get back to the Bahamas in the winter, and maybe it will have better luck getting to the breeding grounds next year.
Friday, April 6, 2018
watch your fingers
We made our annual trip to Florida to visit friends in Palm Beach County at the beginning of March. This is the latest in winter we've gone, and the differences in what birds were around were interesting.
At Wakodahatchee Wetlands park, the Wood Storks were nesting. Some of them were in trees right next to the boardwalk, practically close enough to touch if you didn't mind losing a couple of fingers. In January and February of past years, the dominant nesters were Great Blue Herons; this time it was the storks and smaller shorebirds like Tricolored Heron and Cattle Egret.
All the little hammocks had nests in them. They were like shorebird condos. They generally had Great Blue Herons at the top.
"I just adore a penthouse view..."
Stork nests were below the Great Blues, and then Anhinga nests farther down.
Cattle Egret and Tricolored Herons tucked their nests into cozy little crannies throughout the trees. Double-Crested Cormorants mostly had their own hammocks.
There wasn't much nesting at nearby Green Cay, though there were a nice pair of Screech Owl. The Spoonbills seem to have abandoned it this year, though. I'll post more Florida photos soon, in the meantime, one more Stork nest:
Thursday, March 22, 2018
The last weekend of winter was chilly but bright. Sunday I took a walk through Central Park, testing out a new camera. I caught a couple of birds in dramatic light at Tanner's Spring.
Grackle down for a drink
The camera is a Nikon P900, which I bought mostly for it's huge zoom range; I'm hoping to use it instead of a spotting scope when I go to Jamaica Bay. Hauling around a scope and tripod is a pain in the ... backpack. It seems to work pretty well despite its tiny sensor.
Cardinal in a song battle
There's a lot of birds singing now. In the Ramble I watched a Cardinal counter-singing against a nearby rival. House Finches are in voice, and I've heard Fox Sparrows and even a few Juncos. The Goldfinches seem to be behind this year, though--I haven't even seen any really bright males yet.
Robins have been singing in small numbers. WHite-Throated Sprows have been relatively silent--there haven't been very many in the Park this winter.
O Robin, harbinger of Spring!
Then Spring came in with a blizzard. I saw a flock of over 40 next to the Met Museum in the falling snow on Wednesday. That's the most I've seen at once since last Summer. I guess they flew in just before the storm.
Hopefully we'll start getting real Spring weather soon.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
One of the pleasant things this winter has been a Peregrine Falcon that roosts most days in a tree overlooking the north end of the Central Park Reservoir.
She (large bird; presumed female) favors a tree just south of the iron bridge near the north pumphouse, and often sits there for long stretches. The view is much closer than I usually get with a Peregrine.
The particular tree the falcon favors has a squirrel nest in it. You might imagine the squirrels aren't too pleased.
However the squirrels have figured out that she isn't actually too dangerous at this range. In fact tying to take a mammal out of a tree is not her hunting style at all. Peregrines are more "swoop down and grab a bird out of the air" hunters.
In fact, she's not too happy about the squirrels approaching her, and she'll display at them. Unfortunately I don't have a good photo of that yet.
But she hasn't let that change her roosting spot. I guess it's otherwise the perfect tree.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
In honor of the Superb Owl Sunday holiday, here are some more Superb Owls.
Great Horned Owl
Long-Eared Owl. Seriously, how cool are these?
Northern Saw-Whet Owl. ohsocute!
Northern Saw-Whet Owl. How round!
Long-Eared Owl. I mean, they're feathered super-villians.
Happy Superb Owl Sunday, everyone! For me, it was last Sunday, when I went out to Jamaica Bay to look for Snowy Owls.
I was a little worried about finding any, even though they are reported daily there. It was foggy, with intermittent rain, and visibility wasn't great. But I went down the West Pond trail, straight out from the visitor center, and a little past where the breach from Hurricane Sandy was, I looked up in the trees and stopped dead in my tracks.
I hadn't expected an owl (a) roosting in a tree (b) so close to the trail. I figured I'd have to scan the mudflats through the fog.
Instead, here was an owl in pain sight in a tree not 50 feet off the trail. Easy!
Eventually, I continued down the trail...and 100 feet further on, another owl! In another tree right off the trail! This one was hanging out next to an old Osprey nest.
Both these owls continued giving great views to a bunch of people all day.
The West Pond, by the way, is really beginning to look good. There were a large number of ducks with a good variety of species. After the breach was filled in, it took a while to pump out the brackish water enough to make it attractive again to fresh-water species. It seems to be working, though.
Enjoy your Superb Owl Sunday!
Thursday, February 1, 2018
The hotel we stayed at (Comfort Suites Paradide ISland) was also close to a little mall. (Let me take a moment here to recommend Anthony's Caribbean Bar & Grill. Delicious food and the prices are not bad for the Bahamas.) It was just a strip mall, but there were still birds in and around it. The White-Crowned Pigeon I spotted perched by the ScotiaBank was my 300th life bird.
not wary of people
The White-Crowned Pigeon is the national game bird of the Bahamas, so you'd think they'd be more wary of people; but no. Also, there's a huge statue of one on the road to the airport. I did not get a photo of that, but trust me, you want to see a ten-foot-tall pigeon.
The street trees on the road next to the mall had a variety of birds passing through them. I was most surprised by this Loggerhead Kingbird.
I spotted Yellow-Throated Warblers in those trees as well. They were also in the trees on the hotel property and near other buildings.
support your local Woodstar
The Bahama Woodstar hummingbird was quite widespread. This one was feeding on a tree at the hotel.
So, New Providence has Rock Pigeons, of course, and we've seen the native White-Crowned Pigeon and the exotic Pied-Imperial Pigeon; but also, there were Eurasian Collard-Doves everywhere. They were practically the first bird we saw when we arrived and sat down at the hotel bar for lunch.
Everywhere you went, there they were. It's a little surprising that they coexist with the Rock Pigeons, they seem to have adopted the exact same niche.
turnstone and trash
One of the features of the hotel was that guests can use the beaches at the Atlantis resort. We spent a pleasant afternoon there. The beach was fairly quiet--it was in the low 70s F, so maybe a little cool for many beachgoers--and there were some birds around. The best one was this lone Ruddy Turnstone who walked the beach like he owned it.
surf 'n' turnstone
Up here, we only see Turnstones at a great distance, huddled on the rocky shores of islands in the harbor or on the East River. It was quite shocking to have one just walk right up to us.
There were pigeons hanging out on the beach as well, and of course gulls. The Lesser Black-Backed Gulls were actually a life bird for me. Somehow I had never seen one in New York, although they are not unknown; in fact, I would say that was the most embarrassing hole on my life list.
There were other gulls on the beach as well, mostly Herring Gulls, occasionally trying to steal food from children. In fairness, the kids seemed to be deliberately teasing the birds. Mostly, though, they were just loafing. Like us.
One more species I want to mention is Palm Warbler, who were pretty common in urban-type settings, behaving like House Sparrows in the mall, around the hotel, and this one on a restaurant deck at the airport.
We'll definitely be going back someday.