Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas present; Year-End wrap-up

Christmas present

My other Christmas present, besides the Kingbird, was a spotting scope. I took it for a spin on Randall's island on Sunday. Randall's was pretty quiet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Downy Woodpecker, Randall's Island
Downy Woodpeckers were the most interesting land bird I saw that day

The scope worked fine-I saw for the first time Common Goldeneye ducks off in the channel near Riker's Island. I didn't get photos of them--haven't got the hang of taking photos through the scope yet. When I tried, I wound up with shots like this:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Digibad

Those are Cormorants off on a channel marker rock probably a mile from Randall's Island. The big one on top is a Great Cormorant, the others are Double-Crested.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Brant in flight
Brants doing laps

A flock of Brant that was feeding on one of the ball fields with Canada Geese took off just after high tide, flew around the northeast shore area about four times, settled in eastern mouth of the Bronx Kill, and then swam off east.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Riverscape with Brant
riverscape with Brant

Odds and Ends

The other day, as I passed through the Ramble Arch on my way west, I heard a Carolina Wren singing loudly above. Good morning! He came down to forage--I didn't get much of a photo of him in the brush, but he was quite a cheering sight.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Carolina Wren, Central Park
an obscure but cheering sight

Today, I spotted a Chipping Sparrow along the path down the Gill source to Evodia.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chipping Sparrow, Central Park
oh, Chipping Sparrow, why are you here?

He's very late indeed, but a Chipping did winter here last year. There was a good-looking Sapsucker at Evodia, too.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Evodia
Sapsucker at work

The eBird system doesn't think the Sapsucker is late, but I do. Still there clearly must be sap running in that tree somewhere.

Year-end Wrap-up

The Goldeneyes were species number 190 for the year in New York County for me. Barring a Redpoll or something popping up in the Park tomorrow morning, that's my count for the year. That includes a Budgie, which isn't really a bird you should count. Last year I had 176 (including both Budgie and Canary). I had a lot more time to bird the first eight months of the year than previously.

There's not many birds I regret missing this year in Manhattan (though I am a bit sorry I never trekked out to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to see the Snowy Owl last winter). No Bluebirds, is the main disappointment. There were not a lot of sightings this year. I made a pretty good effort looking, including long silent walks along the top of Inwood Hill. Just not a Bluebird year for me. I missed several Connecticut Warblers--they'd be my nemesis bird if I were a good enough birder to have a nemesis bird. Again, I put a fair effort into looking. I missed the Yellow-Throated Warbler that was around the Tavern on the Green area in Central Park for a week in the Spring. That one I made only two real tries at; I should have tried harder. I didn't see Zelda the Battery Park Wild Turkey this year. Whenever I was down there, she was hiding out. Now I'll never see her again. She had a heck of a long life for a Turkey.

But I saw many more. The best of the year was right at the end, the lovely Couch's Kingbird, a perfect combination of rarity and beauty. But I saw a lot of other wonderful birds, new to me--some rare, some not--Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semi-Palmated Plover, Cerulean Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, White-Winged Scoter, Long-Tailed Duck, Snow Bunting, Red-Necked Grebe... about 30 life birds in the year, which is amazing considering I didn't travel much--almost all of them in New York City.

I figure there's about 35 to 40 species that are regular migrants or frequent visitors here, that I haven't seen yet, so I won't be running out soon--the pace will slow way down since I've seen most of the easier ones. Looking forward to it.

Then there were all the regular birds, the ones I already know. I never see them without enjoyment, never without learning something new. In particular, standing all alone on the shore of Randall's Island while Tree Swallows zoomed around me, courting and feeding and mating, is something I will never forget as long as I live. A perfectly usual bird, seen in a way I never dreamed of. My best moment of the year, even better than the fancy Kingbird.

I'm looking forward to more. I'll have less time for birding in 2015, but I'll be out every chance I get. I have a scope to learn to use, and a hankering to figure out how to photograph birds in flight; and I know more about where and how to look for birds then I ever have. And I'm looking forward to all of it.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallow and nesting material, Randall's Island
Tree Swallow, familiar but brilliant

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
the hero of the hour

Well, the first thing Christmas weekend brought me was a head cold. After spending Christmas Day in bed, I struggled in to work on Friday morning--and then struggled right back out on Friday afternoon to chase the reported Couch's Kingbird in Greenwich Village. Luckily I have an understanding boss.

Couch's Kingbird is a Central and South American bird, with a range extending into southern Texas and no reported sightings in New York before now. But apparently one has been hanging around a vest-pocket park at Jane and Washington Streets for six weeks or so--and nobody reported it until Christmas Day, when Zack Winestine, who found the bird, told Gabriel Willow, who posted it that night on the NYSBIRDS-L mailing list, and the next morning it was off to the races.

I got down to Jane Street about 2 PM. A knot of birders was on the corner opposite the little park. Ken Gayle had just seen the bird, but it had flown. I walked around the block and then into the park, thinking about where I would be if I were a flycatcher.

The answer came when I rejoined the other birders, who had just gotten a call that the bird had been sighted at Bleeker and Hudson, and off we went.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
that first glimpse!

There we found sixty-plus birders, and one bird.

Ed Gaillard: street scenes &emdash; Bird paparazzi, Abingdon Square
the bird paparazzi

A lot of passers-by were curious about what was going on. Everyone was happy to explain about the bird, the first state record, and all that. "And this is what always happens when there's a first sighting of a bird in the state," I told them, "the bird paparazzi all come out."

Ed Gaillard: street scenes &emdash; Bird paparazzi, Abingdon Square
or maybe "birderazzi?"

So, Couch's can only be distinguished from a Tropical Kingbird -- a more numerous species with more vagrant records -- by voice, and this one wasn't calling. It's possible I heard it call once--when a kestrel flew overhead calling, and wouldn't that have been a bad scene--a sharp kip! Maybe.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
ready for action

Luckily it had been calling that morning and was heard and recorded by people who could positively ID it.

Eventually I headed back to work, checking on the Ovenbird still present in Bryant Park and making it back to the office inside the two hours I had told the boss I'd need. Urban birding, there's nothing like it.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
you made it to the end, so you get one more pic of the pretty bird

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shopping season

It's Christmas shopping season, and birders are looking for some end-of-year bargains. In Manhattan, there don't seem to be many. No new rarities on the Christmas Bird Count, and my eBird "year needs" list is just empty--nobody has seen any birds recently that I haven't had this year.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Northern Flicker, Randall's Island
convenient to Midtown

I went up to Randall's Island on Saturday, hoping for the Nelson's Sparrow that kept getting reported through the second week of December. No dice. No Snow Geese, or pipits, or Common Goldeneye, or visiting raptors. Some Red-Breasted Mergansers were there, which is always nice to see, and this one Flicker surveying the landscape.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Turtle Pond
ducks on the pond

Down in Central Park, we have the usual winter waterfowl variety--even on Turtle Pond there are a couple of Hooded Mergansers and some Buffleheads.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Siskins bathing, Central park
Pine Siskin bath time

Pine Siskins continue to show up, and a very few Purple Finches and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, but not much else in the way of irruptive species. Common Redpoll has been absent, and generally those are more likely than Siskins.

We'll see if Christmas weekend brings us anything.

Best wishes to you for a happy solstice-related holiday of your choice.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Warm day, bath day!

Wednesday morning came up sunny and unseasonably warm, and the birds took advantage by getting nice and clean. Pale Male took a dip at the southeast end of Turtle Pond, while a few Mallards dabbled nearby and a single Bufflehead fished.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; pale Male bathing, Turtle Pond
the royal bath

Over at the other end, starlings splashed around in a puddle.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Starling bathing, Central Park

Downtown, at Bryant Park, I was looking for the Ovenbird (didn't find it) when this weird apparition popped up in front of me.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, Bryant Park
fresh from the bath

It took me a minute to figure out it was a Common Yellowthroat dripping wet from a dip in the park's fountain. People have been reporting a Common Yellowthroat in Bryant Park all autumn, but I hadn't seen it before. A very friendly bird--it accepted a few sunflower seeds and hopped all around me for a minute.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, Bryant Park
fluffing dry

You can see it was drying off pretty quickly.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Central Park Christmas Bird Count

I was up at 6:30 this morning and at the south pumphouse of the Central Park Reservoir by 7:45 for the Christmas Bird Count. The count divides the park into seven zones--northeast (Harlem Meer and environs), Northwest (the North Woods mostly), the Reservoir, teh Great lawn, the Ramble, Southeast (the Pond and environs), and Southwest (usually the least productive area, having no real water feature). I joined the Reservoir team this year (last year I did the Great Lawn).

It was a pleasant day to be out. Last year was miserable, icy and slushy, all the joys of bad footing and of getting your feet soaked through; but this year was warm for December, and partly sunny, and dry. But not birdy. The best birds of the day for us were right atthe start--the three Ring-Necked Ducks still hanging out in the southeast corner of the reservoir.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck
who's the best bird? you are!

Other than that, it was slow. We had a Kestrel along Central Park West around 94th Street--heard it first, calling klee-klee-klee! and then spotted it perched on a rooftop. Later we had what turned out to be the only Cedar Waxwing in the whole count. There were a goodly number of woodpeckers, including two Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. I think it's rather late for them to be here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At the compilation, it turned out that there were only 56 species seen in the whole park. Some of the missing species were pretty shocking--no Red-Winged Blackbirds--and numbers of some common species were very low--only a hundred-odd Robins, a couple of dozen Cardinals. Not sure what's going on with that. At least the Titmousen and Nuthatches were back in force after being basically missing last year.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Throated Sparrow bathing
plenty of these guys, though

Monday, December 8, 2014

Early Winter notes

I'm sad to report that the American Woodcock that was sighted many times in Bryant Park in November, died. I saw it lying on a bare patch of ground in the southeast part of the park on December 2. It's a hard life, being a bird.

The Ovenbird in the northwest corner is still hanging on.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ovenbird, Bryant Park
hanging in there

It appears completely without fear of Man, which I suspect means it is very hungry indeed. The other day I tried feeding it pumpkin seeds, and it seemed interested, but they were apparently too large for it. I suppose I could crush some. Or maybe sunflower seeds? Dried fruit? I need something I can carry around for days without it rotting. I can't just leave food out for the pigeons and sparrows to eat (they're doing fine, anyway); I want to feed this particular bird on the days I see it in the morning.

Bryant Park also has a female Towhee I first noticed last Thursday, and saw again today.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Towhee, Bryant Park
Towhee and friends

I assume that, being a sparrow, she'll be fine eating whatever the crowd of White-Throateds subsist on.

Several Catbirds are still there as well.

Nothing very out-of-season has showed up in Central Park that I know of, though a pair of Ring-Necked drakes continues in the Reservoir. By the way, the Conservancy's renovation of the running track continues to close off more and more of the Reservoir from observation; and somehow they never seem to finish work on any part of it before closing off more. Very annoying.

A Goshawk appeared in the north end of Central Park on Sunday. Nadir Souirgi, who spotted it, thought it's behavior meant it might hang around at least a day or so. Also, there have been a steady stream of sightings of red-Shouldered Hawks in the area.

I went out to Randall's Island on Sunday and walked all around. There was nothing much to report there. No Pipits appeared to me, nor did I spot the Nelson's Sparrow (still reported as of 11/29).

The Central Park Christmas Bird Count id this Sunday (12/14) at 8:00am, meeting at the south pumphouse of the Reservoir. That rounds out the birding year. I started this blog right after last year's CBC.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Busy days in the Ramble

Friday, I got out of work early and visited Central Park in search of a Bluebird reported in the Ramble by Alice Deutsch. I went back on Saturday morning for a longer walk. No Bluebirds, but the Ramble was very birdy. The normal winter residents were out in force. There were Tufted Titmousim (Titmouses? Titmousoi?) in great numbers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tufted Titmouse, morning light
Titmouse in morning light

There were plenty of White-Breasted Nuthatches around, too.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Breasted Nuthatch
Nuthatch doing the Nuthatch thing

There's usually several Red-Bellied Woodpeckers in the Ramble, but I think there are more than usual now.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Bellied Woodpecker on Laupot Bridge
finding something to eat in the post on the bridge railing

Red-Bellieds are usually sedentary, but I have read that the will migrate sometimes when conditions are bad on their home grounds.

Among more traditionally migratory birds, there are a lot of Fox Sparrows around.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Fox Sparrow
e pluribus Fox Sparrow

I saw a dozen on Friday and nearly as many Saturday, mostly in Mugger's Woods.

Saturday, there were a couple of Rusty Blackbirds going up and down the Gill between Azalea Pond and Laupot Bridge.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Rusty Blackbird in the Gill
infrequent visitor

They were very confiding. Rustys are not regular visitors to the Park, although we usually get a few sightings.

Among a cloud of Goldfinches bathing near the Gill Overlook, there were four or five Pine Siskins.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Siskin (and American Goldfinch)
blending in with the Goldfinches

Siskins seem to be irrupting this winter, so there will likely be a lot of sightings in the next few months. I wonder if Crossbills will come in as well?

While looking around the Tanner's Spring area just before leaving the Park, I mused that I hadn't seen any Kestrels lately. Of course, I hadn't been searching too hard; I reasoned that if some regularly scanned their usual perches long Central Park West, they could probably see one every day.

Right after that, in the meadow just north of Winterdale Arch, I saw a bird fly onto a low branch of a tree full of Robins and some other birds. It few out again immediately, followed--after a stunned half-second--by every bird in the meadow. It was a Kestrel, and he had just snatched a Junco right off the branch.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Kestrel with Junco prey and mobbing Blue Jay
Kestrel, Junco prey, and a mobbing Blue Jay

The kestrel was mobbed by Blue Jays, Robins, Mourning Doves, Sparrows, and whatever else was around. They chased him from tree to tree, back and forth across the whole area, the Jays screaming, the Kestrel calling a shrill kli kli kli kli kli. The Kestrel would light in a tree with his prey, still calling, and some seconds later fly off again, Jays and allies in hot pursuit. Two or three times a piercing shriek rose above the general clamor. I don't know if it was the Kestrel screaming, or the world's angriest Jay, or perhaps even the unfortunate Junco.

I wish I were good at photographing birds in flight, it was quite a sight in my binoculars. After five minutes or so, The Kestrel finally flew far enough away that many of the pursuing birds gave up. Unforgettable!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hanging on

Late in migration season, when the first really cold days come, I start noticing birds that are lingering. As every Fall, there's a stray Ovenbird in Bryant Park.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ovenbird, Bryant park
swept up in the romance of the city

Sometimes they make it through the winter. There's quite a lot of Catbirds in Brant Park this year, as well. I saw seven the other day.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Gray Catbird, Bryant Park
it's a living

Technically, Gray Catbirds aren't actually late yet, but really they should be moving on. The same applies to the American Woodcock who was seen as late as last Thursday hiding out in the Bryant Park lawn border near the entrance to the skating rink. I haven't seen that bird, and I'm really hoping it's found it's way out of Manhattan. Woodcocks seem to have an awful time migrating through the city.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Central Park
contemplating a long journey

Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are one the likeliest of all the small insectivorous migrants to still be here for the Christmas Bird Count. This one was still around Monday morning near Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Palm Warbler, Randall's Island
enjoying the season

Palm Warblers stay pretty late in the year as well. This one was happily hanging out with a small group of Juncos on Randall's Island on Sunday. The Juncos seemed puzzled by the friendly warbler. "Hey, do you know this guy?" they seemed to be asking each other.

Every year, it seems that something really unlikely overwinters in Manhattan.  I wonder what it will be this year?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ring-Necked Ducks, Central Park Reservoir

Saturday at the Central Park Reservoir, I saw this:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Three--count 'em!-three Ring-Necked Ducks, Central Park Reservoir
Three-count'em!--three Ring-Necked Ducks

Three drake Ring-Necked Ducks, just hanging out. They seemed to be taking turns being the one awake. Andres Peltomaa tweeted that that's the high count ever for Ring-Necked Duck in Central Park. There had been two the previous day.

I didn't find the female Northern Pintail who had been reported a couple of days before. Sunday I went to Randall's Island in search of American Pipits--Jacob Drucker saw four on Saturday morning along the northeast shore line, and David Barrett had one a couple of days before--but had no luck. There was a flock of over 300 Brant on one of the baseball fields, which was interesting, and a bird flew by that I couldn't identify.

It was the size and general coloration and shape of s smallish gull--maybe a Bonaparte's or a Laughing Gull--but was brick red or chestnut on the undertail coverts or vent. It flew very directly east to west along the Bronx Kill with fast steady wingbeats, eventually rising to fly over the bridge and then slowly descending out of sight. I have no idea what it was. It doesn't seem to match anything in the books. maybe the red was actually its feet, tucked up under it? Still doesn't really match anything that I can see.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Command the last fruits to ripen, give them another sunny day

On Sunday, I walked up the west side of Central Park from 81st Street to 110th, in search of late Bluebirds. It was a glorious day for a walk, sunny and crisp. There were Fox Sparrows around Tanner's Spring, Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks in numbers on the Reservoir, and north of the Reservoir, in a cherry tree along the dirt track, a Purple Finch devoured the fall fruit.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Purple Finch and fruit

I have read that birds can't taste sweet; they love fruit because it's savory. But they do love it.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Starling and fruit

Several Starlings worked the same tree, as joggers ran past and couples strolled hand in hand.

Further north, the Great Hill was covered in a fine grey mist of Juncos. No Bluebirds, though.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Where are the Robins?

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Robin singing, Central Park
Have you seen me?

I haven't been seeing many Robins or Cardinals lately. Usually at this time of year, there are Robins by the dozen in the Ramble and on Cedar Hill and, oh, pretty much everywhere. Not this year; I've gone days without seeing any, and when I see them, there's only a handful. Cardinals are normally quite plentiful as well. Not this Fall.

American Robins are normally migratory--it's right in their name, Turdus migratorius--but over the last few decades, more and more of them have wintered in the New York area. These are probably short-haul migrants (birds from upstate or New England moving here for the winter, while birds that summered here go down to Maryland or so, and birds from there move farther south). This year, they seem to have skipped the City and gone on south.

Northern Cardinals are sedentary--they don't migrate, they stay in their nesting areas year-round. But there were a plenty of them this summer, and very few now.

On the NY state Birds mailing list today, Shai Mitra has noticed something odd going on as well:
Back around the end of September there was a thread on this list regarding recent incursions into NYS, not only of classic irruptives such as Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches, but also of more cryptic migrants, such as Downy Woodpeckers. [...] Since that time, the data have strongly confirmed that not only Downy Woodpeckers, but also Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches (and even Northern Cardinals!), are all staging major irruptions this year.
I was part of a group that conducted a stationary morning flight count [at Robert Moses SP, Suffolk County], and my companions will attest that our total of 5 Hairy Woodpeckers had me freaking out a little bit.... Among other relatively (or allegedly) sedentary species moving this morning were 12 Downies, 20 Red-bellies (possibly a local daily max), and a White-breasted Nut, and our total of 28 Northern Cardinals in obvious morning flight was a true spectacle of nature!

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cardinal, Central Park
not a classic irruptive

So what's going on? why are these birds on the move?

Sometimes people try to forecast the winter by the birds. "Oh, they're staying north this Fall, must be a mild winter coming", or "Everything went through early, hard winter ahead". I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense. How would birds know what was coming? Weather forecasting is hard.

You can see how it would be a big evolutionary advantage, though, especially for sedentary and short migrants. If you're a bird that normally stays on its nesting territory, and you knew that the winter was going to be harsh, you'd move. But, Central Park lost most of its Carolina Wrens in last winter--surely they'd have moved out if they'd known how harsh it was going to be.

I don't know. Last winter's harshness was very unexpected. The Fall was so mild, do you remember? Maybe the birds got caught by surprise. Maybe this year, they know what's coming.

What are you seeing where you are? What are the Robins, Cardinals, and woodpeckers doing?

Monday, November 10, 2014


On Friday, there was a report of a Dickcissel at Inwood Hill Park, in with a sparrow flock on the soccer field near the cove. Dickcissel is a very good bird for New York--they're a midwestern bird--but I doubted it would still be around on Saturday, and I was frankly feeling a bit lazy, so after brunch I headed off to Central Park instead, Maybe there'd be Bluebirds.

On the bus, I checked the eBird reports, and lo! The Dickcissel had been seen again, a bit before noon, on one of the baseball fields along the Hudson just north of Dyckman street. OK, OK, I know when I'm being told to get moving. I grabbed the C train and was at Inwood Hill by 1:30.

There was a big group of House Sparrows around the southmost fence of the last baseball field. I scanned it over and over. Every few minutes the birds would flush into the nearby trees or from one side of the fence to the other; sometimes because a bicyclist went by, sometimes for no apparent reason, and then they'd come back and I'd start scanning again. I did that for a half-hour, then decided to check out the rest of the river walk and try again afterward. The north end of the walk is a good place to spot raptors over the Bronx (I had a Bald Eagle there once) or over the cliffs in Jersey, or to see unusual seabirds (that's where the Scoters were last winter).

Not much there today. A flock of about 50 Canada Geese were on the field where some soccer goals are set up. I've never seen anyone playing soccer there. A Ring-Billed Gull buzzed them once, just for lulz, and they set up some honking. A Red-Tailed Hawk looking for dinner cruised over Inwood Hill from north to south and on to Fort Tryon Park. A dozen or so Goldfinches moved through the trees along the railroad tracks, and a larger flock of Juncos foraged along the fence by the tracks. I scanned the Juncos. There were a few Chipping Sparrows and a Song Sparrow in with them.

I thought about going back and trying the baseball fields again, when I heard dogs barking from that direction. I could see there were people on the field there. Then groups of House Sparrows arrived from that direction. One stopped by a big maple and commenced foraging on the grass right by the path. So I looked them over. Again very minute or two they'd all move into the bushes or fly over to the trees along the railroad tracks, then quickly return.

To give you an idea of what I was looking at, here's a small part of the House Sparrow flock:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Where's Waldo?
Where's Waldo?

There's a Dickcissel in there. See it?

Once, when the birds flushed, I noticed a couple of birds stayed behind. That was interesting. So I got my binoculars on them, and saw one with a bright yellow breast--score!--and then it flew to join the rest.

Now at least I knew the Dickcissel was there. I caught glimpses of yellow a couple of times, and then she pulled the slow-to-flush business again.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Dickcissel!

I say "she" because males have a black "V" near the throat, like a tiny Meadowlark. The field guides say the female has a "hint" of yellow on the breast. I'd say this is more than a hint.

Eventually the House Sparrows joined the Juncos by the fence along the railroad tracks. I moved slowly over there. The House Sparrows moved further north, but the Dickcissel stayed behind with the Juncos.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Dickcissel and Junco, Inwood Hill Park
Junco partner

I watched a good long time--House sparrows moving north and south, Juncos flushing to the trees and returning, a Field Sparrow popping up in their midst, and the Dickcissel moving through the flock, sometimes near, sometimes far.

Eventually, with the sun getting low, I headed back toward Dyckman Street. I stopped off at the pier there. There were two Mute Swans in the surf with some Mallards.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Mute Swans, Hudson River
surf's up!

A birder came up looking for Bonaparte's Gulls, but headed off to look for the Dickcissel when I told him where I'd seen it. I hope he got it; dusk was coming on pretty fast.

It turns out there were Bluebirds in Central Park. I should have another chance at them, though.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Birds still coming in

Over the last week or so, the Fall migration has brought me a couple of new birds for the year. On the 26th, there were a flock of Pine Siskins in the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Siskin, Central Park
Siskin irruption!

Usually, Pine Siskins stay well to the north, but in some years when the pine cone crop is scarce, they irrupt into the US to find food. There have been a lot of Siskin sightings this Fall. I had missed them until now, and they became my 185th Manhattan species of the year.

While I was in the Park that day, I spent a pleasant hour at Belvedere Castle looking for migrating raptors. I didn't have much luck with the migrants, but I did watch a local resident Kestrel hunting over the Great Lawn. Eventually it roosted in a tree top, and a bold Blue Jay made it known that he found the Kestrel's presence unsatisfactory.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Kestrel vs. Jay
off with you, I say!

The Kestrel was not too impressed.

During the week I saw my first brown creeper of the autumn in the Park, bathing at the east end of Turtle Pond.  It was the most birdlike I've ever seen a Creeper--they usually act more like some kind of acrobatic mouse.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Brown Creeper, Central Park
fluffing dry

Last Sunday was the NY Marathon. I live east of First Avenue, so usually the Marathon traps me at home all day. This year, I got moving early to take a bus north before they closed the streets, and went over to Randall's Island.

I once again failed to see a Nelson's Sparrow in the salt marsh area at the northern tip of the island, although an older gentleman there told me he had seen one. Well, they're notoriously hard to spot. I gave up after an hour and a half and went off to see what else was on the island.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Brant, Randall's Island
sign of winter

There were a lot of Brant in the East River, a sure sign of impending winter. I noticed two very small brownish ducks swimming with them. Green-Winged Teal! (Species 186 for the year in New York County.)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Brant and Green-Winged Teal, Randall's Island
our smallest duck

Down in the Hell Gate Inlet salt marsh there were Yellow-Rumped warblers, and a very pale bird with streaks on the sides of the breast that was either a very pale Yellow-Rumped, or maybe a Blackpoll.

Along the "Water's Edge Garden" on the east shore of the island, Palm Warblers frolicked in the flower beds. Then I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk flying hard and low across the grounds of the mental health center. He was carrying a squirrel, which he carried up into a tree. There was a dense chain-link fence between us, but I got a couple of decent photos.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk with squirrel
hawk and dinner

I hear there are Green-Winged Teal on the Central Park Reservoir, and someone saw a Woodcock in Strawberry Fields the other day. There was a report of a Varied Thrush in Madison Square Park as well, but the reporter wasn't sure of the ID and as far as I know the bird was not refound. among more common but still very nice birds, there are Kinglets all over the place. So it's still quite birdy out there.