Monday, January 27, 2014

A Grand Day Out

Sunday I trekked out to Randall's Island to look for a Barnacle Goose that had been reported there on Saturday. A Barnacle Goose, if an actual wild bird (as this appears to be), is a very rare find in New York. When I arrived at the north end of the island, I quickly located the bird, foraging on the exposed mud of the channel north of the island with a flock of 150 or so Canada Geese and a couple of Brant. They took to the water shortly after.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Barnacle Goose, Randall's Island
Barnacle Goose amid Canada Geese, Randall's Island

After taking some photos, I scanned the vicinity for whatever else might be around. I saw a group of Red-Breasted Mergansers out in the main stream of the East River, and with them, a diving bird that didn't look like one of them, but they were too far off to make anything of it.

My attention was diverted when a small group of geese, the Barnacle, took off and flew to the nearby baseball field just south and east of the path. The snow was relatively thin there, and they foraged on the exposed grass.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Barnacle Goose, Randall's Island

They were soon joined by others, including a Brant, who was about the same size as the Barnacle. I could never get a clear view of them together for a photo. (More Barnacle photos are at

Another birder told me some Snow Buntings were present on the northeast shore between field 31 and the shore, so after having my fill of the Barnacle, I headed off that way. I stopped just east of the saltmarsh first to have another look around.

The mergansers and the odd bird were a little closer, though still quite distant. I could see that the odd diver was a little smaller.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, East River off Randall's Island

It turned into the light a bit more, and I saw it had a larger and very pointy bill, and a strong face pattern. But I still had no idea what it was. It didn't match anything in a quick flip through my Peterson.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, East River off Randall's Island

The diver them moved off towards the Bronx shore east of the <i.Post</i> building, and I moved off to find the Buntings.

I think this is the Red-Necked Grebe reported by Angus Young the same day. That's another very nice bird for New York. My photos are all poor because of distance, but I've put all the legible ones in a set: All those are radically cropped, but otherwise straight from the camera; the ones above have had their brightness and contrast boosted as well.

The Snow Buntings, four of them, were where they were supposed to be. When I came up, they were foraging on the grass.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Snow Bunting, Randall's Island

A snowplow drove past the area, and they flushed into a small tree along the shore and eyed me suspiciously.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Snow Buntings, Randall's Island

I moved on south. The marsh area at Little Hell Gate Inlet was sparse--a few ducks and geese, and a Downy Woodpecker frantically working on a small tree branch. The "Water's Edge Garden" area between the inlet and the Ward's Island Bridge had a lot of Canada Geese and the usual gulls, but nothing very special.

By the time I got to the bridge, the weather--which had been pleasant though cold--had turned cloudy and dampish. I considered just crossing the bridge and heading home, but decide to have a look at the south shore first. And I'm glad I did, because there, near a small flock of geese, was a Horned Grebe.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Horned Grebe, Randall's Island
Horned Grebes are perfectly nice birds, but their eyes make them look like demon-birds from Hell.

I watched him swim and dive for a while as it began to snow.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Horned Grebe, Randall's Island

Finally it got quite unpleasant as the snow began to blow hard, so I retreated across the bridge and made my way home.

Barnacle Goose, Red-Necked Grebe, and Horned Grebe are all life birds for me, and boost my New York County total for the year to 65.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What I learned today

I'm sentimental. I worry about the little birds in the cold weather. Especially, I've been worried about the Carolina Wrens in Central Park this winter, so today I trudged out in the mid-teen temperatures to the Ramble, with a bag of blueberries.

Blueberries? Yes. Wrens are basically insectivores, but will eat fruit (they can use the glucose); nuts or seeds, not so much. Their guts are not set up to deal with extracting nutrition from plant matter (no gizzard, for one thing). In extreme need, they can eat some very oily seeds like sunflower, crunching it up to get the oils. At, least, that's what I'd been told. So, since we had some blueberries...

At Evodia, Sol told me that at least one wren had been visiting and begging food. He showed up in a few minutes.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Carolina Wren, Central Park
Hey, buddy, spare some food for a wren?

And I tossed a few berries on the ground in front of him, and Sol threw out--a handful of crushed peanuts.

The bird eyed the blueberries suspiciously, grabbed a hunk of peanut, and retreated.

The same scene repeated a little later. So now I know a Carolina Wren will choose peanuts over blueberries.

Elsewhere in the Ramble, it was pretty much the usual crew. I watched a young Red-Tailed scouting the area for prey.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk takes off, Central Park

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This and that

I walked all the way around Randall's Island on Sunday. There were a lot of Red-Breasted mergansers on the southern shoreline.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Breasted Merganser, Randall's Island

A note for anyone thinking of visiting Randall's: some of the pedestrian paths marked on the map don't look much like paths when you're walking on them. There's a path running under the Hell Gate Bridge approach that isn't really passable in spots.

I finally made my way to the freshwater marsh near the Little Hell Gate Inlet. There's a path into the middle of it, which does not go through, so I backtracked to Central avenue and walked on the west side of the wetland. I heard a loud, low-pitched chack call, and scanned the tall grass.

There was a Rusty Blackbird clinging to a reed--a male, black with a lot of rusty feather edging, especially on the head and back. He spotted me as I raised my camera and took off in a looping flight up and over the Hell Gate approach road, coming down somewhere in the water treatment plant area. My 62nd species this year in NY county.

The north end of the island had a massive flock of over 300 Brant.

Monday, I went to Central Park. Lots of Downy Woodpeckers around Evodia. The Baltimore Orioles remain there as well. I think the second oriole is an immature male, because the adult male bird basically dominates it, chasing it away for the feeders over and over.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Brown Creeper chaser

In the tradition of Boing Boing's "Unicorn Chasers", here's a Brown Creeper:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Brown Creeper, Central Park

The two very confiding creepers were at Evodia today, and also two Black-Capped Chickadees, which I think is the first time I've seen two in the same place this winter. They were flying back and forth between the Gill source path and the westernmost feeder at Evodia, and quite talkative.

I didn't get good photos of them, because the focusing on my Panasonic GX7 kept refusing to settle on them. On the plus side, once the focus grabbed onto a tree ten or fifteen yards away, and showed be the four Cedar Waxwings roosting there. That wasn't a good photo either, but it was my 61st species in New York County this year.

Nature, red in et cetera, continued

Here's the two crows squabbling over a dead rat, as I mentioned a couple of days ago:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Crows squabbling over a rat, Strawberry Fields, Central Park

And a link to the crow enjoying his snack.

Nature, red in beak and talon

The Canvasbacks were gone from the Reservoir today. The group of Wood Ducks was still around, minus one drake:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Wood Ducks, Central Park Reservoir

And the Ring-Necked Duck is still around:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck, Central Park Reservoir

On the northern end of the Reservoir, I watched a female Hooded Merganser dive and come up with a crawfish:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Hooded Merganser eating a crawfish, Central Park Reservoir

And then I headed over to the Pool. On the way, I spotted a red-Tailed hawk perched high in a tree. I took a couple of photos, and then looked around and saw Karen Fung photographing something in another tree. She has followed a diving Red-Tailed Hawk from the Reservoir, and it was now enjoying a meal on a low perch:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk eating a pigeon, Central Park

I got a bunch of great shots of him dining, but some are not for the squeamish.

At the Pool, I had two first-of-year sightings, a Swamp Sparrow and a Brown Thrasher.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Brown Thrasher, The Pool, Central Park

The sparrow was too deep in the shadows for a decent photo. Those two, plus a female Towhee on the eerily quiet Great Hill, get me up to 60 species for the year in New York County.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Crow feast; Northern Flicker; Canvasbacks

Today at Strawberry Field in central Park, I saw three crows fly into a tree. One was carrying what appeared to be a small rat, and set about eating it. One of the others tried half-heartedly to take it away. perhaps I will post a gruesome picture later.

A Flicker had been in the tree when the crows arrived, and split the scene immediately. It took up residence in a sapling nearby and sat there giving alarm cries. As it happens, it was my first Flicker of the year.

Later, I was told of Canvasbacks in the southeast corner of the reservoir. Canvasbacks are rare visitors to the Park, and really to Manhattan in general, so off I went. They were there, two drakes, sleeping peacefully. One woke up briefly when he found himself surrounded by Buffleheads for a moment, and I could see his distinctive sloping profile. But that was a good quarter-hour after sunset, so the photo is not very useful.

That puts me at 57 species in New York County this year.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Randall's Island again

I returned to Randall's Island today, intending to see a bit more of it this time. Previously, I had only visited the north shore saltmarsh area and the northeast shoreline.

I started with the shoreline, heading for the hill next to the Fire Department training center (across the river from the power station). There had been reports of Horned Larks there as recently as a week or so ago. As I approached, I spotted a Kestrel perched on a traffic sign ("No Standing"). I got some photos before it flew off.

Farther along, a crow sat on a lamppost, giving a nasal "ha! ha! ha! ha!" call. Two Great Cormorants flew downriver, heading south with the tide going out.

The usual large collection of Canada Geese and Brant were in the northern channel, along with a collection of ducks and gulls. No sign of the Snowy Owl on any of the baseball fields, alas.

I walked down Central Road to Icahn Stadium. I have to say I'm not too impressed with the path signage; I couldn't figure out how to get to the freshwater marsh area. I know there's a path... Anyway, I headed down the west shore to the Little Hell Gate Inlet, with was choked with more geese and brant.

I met another birder near the Ward's Island Bridge, and we spotted some Red-Breasted Mergansers, first of the year for me. Quite lovely birds.

We covered the south shore--more Double-Crested Cormorants, and a Mockingbird--and I returned to the Ward's Island Bridge and walked home along the East River esplanade. A group of seven Ruddy Ducks slept around 99th Street, and a single Coot dabbled and dove near the Marine Transfer Station site.

At the north end of Carl Shurz park, a woman fed the seagulls. Who the hell feeds seagulls?

I think the walk across the Ward's Island footbridge (the 103rd Street bridge) and up the island is a good alternative to the rather unpleasant M35 bus, at least if you're up for walking a couple or three miles.

The Great Cormorants and the Red-Breasted Mergansers give me 55 species in New York County this year.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Things I haven't seen before

One of the joys of birding is that, almost every time I go out, I see something I've never seen before.

Today, as I entered Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street, I spotted a Red-Tailed hawk in a tree just inside the entrance. That's not unusual. Pale Male famously lives on Fifth, and one of this year's crop of his offspring has been roosting in a pine on Cedar Hill nearby. I think this was that young hawk.

What was unusual is that the tree also contained twenty-odd starlings. Hawk and starlings all sat peacefully together. I've never seen that before.

In the Ramble, I saw a Cooper's Hawk chase another Cooper's away from a Willow Rock. I don't think I've seen that, either. They were roughly the same size, and seemed rather large for Cooper's, so I guess both were female.

Two Carolina Wrens were among the birds at the Evodia feeders. Yay, the wrens didn't freeze to death! The Baltimore Orioles were there as well.

Snow Buntings, Randall's Island

So I've never seen Snow Buntings. I saw there were reports on eBird that there were some on the northeast shore of Randall's Island in December, but I never saw them the few times I went. But there were still reports in the new year, so I went back on Thursday.

When I arrived on the north shore, a large mixed flock of Brant and Canada Goose were feeding on the baseball field. I took some photos, using my pocket camera for its wider angle to try to get the whole group.

Suddenly, the hundred-fifty or so Brant all took off at once. They went right over my head as I frantically tried to get a photo out of the slow little Canon. I was in luck:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Brant taking off over Randall's Island

The fifty or so geese pondered the changed situation, and then took off themselves. They and the Brant all wound up on the narrow bit of the East River at the northern end of the island.

On the Bronx side, a Kingfisher rattled and flew.

The northeast shore was quiet and seemed deserted. Hearing nothing and seeing nothing moving, I went to the near edge of the rocks to look at the distant islets to the east, where cormorants often rest from fishing. There were a couple of Double-Cresteds there.

It was when I stepped back that the Buntings arose in front of me. They must have been lurking in the rocks a little further down toward the water's edge. The birds beat into the wind, calling "tew! tew! tew!" and then flew in a very coherent formation about twenty yards along the shore. I counted fourteen as they flew. The buntings settled in another patch of rocks and disappeared.

I followed slowly, moving farther away from the shoreline. Eventually I spotted three on a prominent rock, and got my camera up. More popped up on the rock as I stood and photographed.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Snow Buntings, Randall's Island

After a couple of minutes, they rose up again and flew back toward the salt marsh area I had come from. I decided to trouble them no more.

I continued to the hill near the fire training station, where Horned Larks had been reported, but I didn't strike lucky this time. probably I was not patient enough. Still, I left happy.

Brant, Kingfisher, Double-Crested Cormorant, and the American Crows I saw on the way back to the bus were all first-of-year for me; those plus the life Snow Buntings give me 53 species in New York County this year.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bitter cold

My god, it was cold today. Bright and sunny, but bitter and windy. I went out intending to feed those Carolina Wrens that were so insistent the other day, but I didn't locate them. Hopefully they had found some sheltered place to hang out.

I scattered sunflower seeds around Willow Rock and a few other places. The various sparrows were very happy. The male Baltimore Oriole was around the Evodia feeders with a crowd of the usual suspects. A female or immature oriole drank in teh Gill upstream of Azalea Pond, nearby.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Peregrine Falcon, Manhattan College (Bronx NY)

I went up to Riverdale in the Bronx today to visit my aunt, who is in a nursing home recovering from a hip replacement. The walk down Manhattan College Parkway was very pleasant despite the intermittent rain, woods on the other side of the road. A mockingbird flew across the street.

I detoured through a small park, Brust Park. A Red-Bellied Woodpecker called and I scanned the trees until I spotted it. When I emerged back on the street, Blue Jays screamed in the distance. I looked across at the buildings of the Manhattan College campus. The cupola of one building seemed...a little lopsided.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Peregrine Falcon, Manhattan College, Bronx NY

I pulled out my binoculars, and saw there was a Peregrine Falcon perched.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Peregrine Falcon, Manhattan College, Bronx NY

I watched for a while and photographed. The jays continued screaming, at a great distance.

Long-Eared Owl, again

Today was dreary and damp, a perfect day to stay home. But, there were reports that a Long-Eared owl was back on Cherry Hill in Central Park, so off I went.

It was a marginally better view than last time--I could at least see that the owl had ear tufts. But it was basically unphotographable, at least for me.

Very photograhable, on the other hand, were the Carolina Wrens I encountered at Willow Rock on the way in. In the absence of Titmouses this winter, the Carolina Wrens seem to be taking over "the will land on your hand for food" niche in Central Park. Being Carolina Wrens, they don't bother to wait for you to extend a hand with food in it; they take the initiative. This was one of two wrens at Willow Rock who hopped on my boots and landed on my arm. I didn't have any food.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Carolina Wren, Central Park

That's an uncropped photo.

The Long-Eared Owl was my 48th species of 2014.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I believe that is called al fresco

Recently I've had a couple of good views of raptors having lunch in the trees above Azalea Pond. Thursday, it was an American Kestrel eating a Fox Sparrow snatched right from under the feeders at Evodia.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; American Kestrel with lunch, Central Park

The day before, I watched a Cooper's Hawk chow down on a sparrow (probably a House Sparrow). Here it is spitting out some feathers:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Cooper's Hawk eating a sparrow

Nature, red in beak and talon. I'm fonder of the little birds than I am of the hawks, but we all have to make a living.

Friday, January 3, 2014

First warbler of the year

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Warbler, probably Yellow-Rumped, Central Park

I decided to see what the storm might have brought in. I had a clever plan--I was going to go into the park from Central PArk West, cross the Ramble, and stop to warm up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before checking the reservoir. Events intervened; a truck broke down in the Transverse, and I went in from Fifth, past Greywacke Arch.

This turned out lucky. Near the Poland monument at the east end of Turtle Pond, I heard a liquid chip call, and found a warbler, which I think is a very drab Yellow-Rumped.

Later, I saw an American Kestrel eat a Fox Sparrow near Azalea Pond.

I also added Brown-Headed Cowbird, and Song Sparrow to my year list, now at 47 species.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chilly day

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Common Merganser landing on Central Park Reservoir

A blustery day with a storm coming in turned out productive: I picked up some usual species I knew were in Central Park but had missed on New Year's Day (Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, American Goldfinch, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker), plus I got a good view of a Cooper's Hawk dining at Azalea Pond. I believe the entree was a House Sparrow; I will share photos soon.

After a couple of hours, I was going to finish by skimming the south end of the Reservoir and going home, but I looked at the NYSBirds mailing list and saw that Pat Pollock ("Pat in the Hat") had reported a Canvasback (very rare in Manhattan) in the northeast corner of the Reservoir, so I went up there. No Canvasback that I could spot, but there was a Lesser Scaup, which is also a good bird in the park. Another birder spotted something red-headed back on the west side, so back we went; it turned out to be a female Common Merganser, who kindly flew in to give us a better look. (Common Merganser is not common in NYC; almost nothing with "Common" in the name is, except Common Grackle.) By then it was getting very nasty out, so when I worked around to the southeast corner and met a birder who had also not seen the Canvasback, I bailed out.

Anyway, that gets me up to 43 species. I'm told that White-Winged Crossbills sometimes come in after a snowstorm...

In with the new

We were out until 4 AM on New Year's Eve, but I still made it to the Park by 9:15. The continuing Ring-Necked drake was almost the first bird I saw when I got to the Reservoir.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck, Central Park Reservoir

I circled the reservoir and then headed down the west side of the park to the Reservoir. Across the street from Summit Rock, an American Kestrel surveyed the world from a balcony.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; American Kestrel, Central Park West

In the Ramble, A young Red-Tailed Hawk flew in and perched only a few feet from me.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Young Red-Tailed Hawk, Central Park

Later, I saw a young Sharp-Shinned Hawk attacking squirrels. I think this was the same hawk I watched making passes at the ducks on Turtle Pond a few days ago. It's not having much luck.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Central Park

Other park birding news: the Baltimore Orioles continue around Evodia. There's supposed to be a Winter Wren along the Gill between Azalea Pond and Laupot Bridge, but I didn't see it. Now you know as much as I do.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Baltimore Oriole, Central Park (Evodia)

I ended 2013 with 176 species in New York County and 179 overall. That's counting the European Goldfinch, the Budgie, and the Yellow-Fronted Canary. So, really, three less without the escapees; though I'm inclined to count the Goldfinch, who was flocking with finches. I don't expect to get anything close to that in 2014, but I do start the year with 36 species, only two less than last January 1.