Friday, February 28, 2014

The Wren Rescue

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Carolina Wren, Central Park
Our Carolina Wren, the day before

I went to Central Park this afternoon. It was blustery and cold, though sunny. As I left Maintenance meadow in the Ramble, I ran into Ranger Rob Mastrianni and two other Park workers. "I have a wren in my bag", Rob said.

One of the Carolina Wrens who has been around the Evodia feeders this winter was acting listless--not feeding and seemingly unable to fly--and the birders watching the feeders called Rob, and Rob spirited the little bird away to the Wild Bird Fund. Hopefully our little friend will recover well. At least he's somewhere warm now.

The afternoon was otherwise pretty uneventful. An American Tree Sparrow was at the feeders with the usual residents, but I didn't see the Pine Warbler who was observed earlier in the day. I walked around a while, looking at likely spots for Woodcocks, but none presented themselves.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Mockingbird, Cedar Hill, Central Park
Mockingbird, come out to glare at me

When I first entered the park at Cedar Hill, I heard an odd song--a phrase of two high notes, repeated at intervals of a few seconds--coming from Near the Transverse, near the path between Cedar Hill and the south side of the Metropolitan Museum. I had a notion of what it was, stopped and approached the trees along the Transverse to see if I could get a look. Eventually the Mockingbird--for that was indeed who it was--came out to glare at me for getting too close to his tree. Hello, bird!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Killdeer, Randall's island

Yesterday, I went up to Randall's Island, mostly to look for the Killdeer that had been reported the day before. The report had been that the bird was on the grass of the baseball fields. Indeed, most of the snow had melted, but the Kildeer was not there. At the saltmarsh on the north end, I saw Song Sparrows and a Swamp Sparrow, and heard three more sparrows I didn't recognize. One gave a long fast trill--like a Junco but faster, and with a sharp up note at the end; it was quite loud, I think the bird may actually have been on the Bronx side of the channel. Another had a monotonous single high fluting tweet, repeated at intervals of a second or two for a minute. The third called do-TWEE-TWEE-do; that was probably just another Song Sparrow. None showed itself in the twenty minutes or so I waited.

The fields were occupied by a large number of Canada Geese and Brant. I walked all around the northeast shore and fields, and finally returned to the saltmarsh area. It was lucky I did so, because it was while observing the marsh from a vantage next to the (closed off) footbridge to the Bronx that I saw movement on the mudflat below.

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

The Killdeer blended amazingly well with the mud and rocks, and walked quickly over the mudflat. I had a hard time getting a photo, because when I lowered my binoculars and brought up the camera, it disappeared. I did finally get some pictures. As you can see, they weren't great--the bird was at some distance, far enough that I couldn't tell if it ever gave the loud call that gives it both the common name "Killdeer" and the Latin name Charadrius vociferus ("loudmouth plover").

The Killdeer was my 70th sopecies in New York County this year.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Great Cormorant taking off

Here's a Great Cormorant I saw off the south shore of Randall's Island the other day.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Great Cormorant, Randall's Island

Note the white patch on the flank. I believe that's diagnostic, as is the white around the base of the bill.

I got a nice series of the takeoff, which I did not expect to work; the little Panasonic GX7 performed admirably. If only I could get it to focus on small birds in branches more consistently...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Common Loon

I wound up spending 5 hours on Randall's Island today. I'm too wiped out to sort through photos just yet. There are still Snow Buntings on the northeast shore; I saw the Horned Lark again in the southeast near the Triboro Bridge; and there was a Common Loon off the southwest shore, a hundred yards or so south of the Ward's Island Bridge. From the road 20 yards away, I noticed a large bird very close to shore, thought "isn't that a loon?", got my glasses on it, noted the huge bill and the transitional plumage (dull winter head, but the back starting to look like the breeding "checkerboard" pattern), and then it dove--and as far as I saw, never came up. I think it must have surfaced north of the bridge.

Anyway, Common Loon! My 69th species in New York county this year.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Horned Lark, Randall's Island

Anya Auerbach reported a Horned Lark in the southeast part of Randall's Island two days ago, and that was enough to drag me to the island on this grey morning.

I came over the Ward's Island Bridge and walked along the south shore.  The tide was coming in fast.  You could see the hard currents that gave this stretch of the East River the name Hell Gate.

A half-dozen Brant flew past me from the east, landed a little offshore at the start of one of the more obvious flows, and floated back east.  Then they flew back and did it again.  They seemed to be doing this just for the enjoyment.

Just north of the Triboro Bridge, in a small pine near the shore, I saw a little movement.  There it was!

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Horned Lark, Randall's Island
A Horned Lark.  It came down from the tree, poked around in the snow for a minute, and flew off west into Field 74.  I wouldn't have thought a brown bird could disappear so easily on a snowy field, but it did.

Shortly after that, as I walked past the Scylla Playground, it started to rain seriously, so I made my way past the freshwater marsh near Little Hell Gate inlet to the nearest bus stop.  I'll check the northeast shore again some nicer day.

Horned Lark is my 68th species in New York County this year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lazy weekend

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Eastern Towhee, Central Park
Eastern Towhee in the Shakespeare Garden

Sorry for the lack of posts. I had a lazy weekend.

Sunday an American-Tree Sparrow was reported at the Evodia feeders, so I went out to see if it was still there. I was there for an hour or so, and it didn't show up. I had a nice time seeing the other winter residents--the Baltimore orioles were there, along with Brown Creeper, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Downy Woodpeckers, and the usual Juncos, House Finches, Goldfinches, White-Throated sparrows, House Sparrows, and Grackles.

I took a walk around the Ramble, but luckily I came back just in time to see a little rufous-capped sparrow foraging with Juncos and Whte-Throateds:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; American Tree Sparrow and friends, Central Park
American Tree Sparrow (in the back), and friends

So that's my 67th species in the county this year.

I walked through the Shakespeare Garden on my way out of the park. That was uneventful until I saw a small flock of mixed sparrows, joined by a Brown Thrasher and the very confiding Towhee at the top of this post.  He was maybe 8 feet away from me when I took that shot.

There's been a Red-Shouldered Hawk reported several times in the past week in Central Park, but I haven't seen it.

Anya Auerbach reported a Horned Lark on Randall's Island today, also with Red-Necked Grebe, Common Goldeneye, Common Loon and others. If it doesn't snow all day tomorrow, I may chase those.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pine Warbler reported in Central Park

In keeping with the name of the blog, I am happy to share with you a rumor of a warbler. On Sunday, Angus Wilson reported a Pine Warbler on ebird. Marie Winn's blog ran a slightly expanded version of Angus' report: "Around 1:30 this afternoon, I noticed a dull-colored PINE WARBLER feeding appropriately enough in a pine close to the King Jagiello (Poland) Monument in Central Park. It flew south towards the Maintenance Meadow."

That's the same behavior I saw in my first warbler of the year on January 3, a bird I IDed as an extraordinarily dull Yellow-Rumped Warbler. I doubt it's the same bird. Surely somebody would have seen it in between.

Anyway, there you have it. Warbler! Six weeks from now or so, we'll be covered in them. I hope.

Peregrine Falcons, Randall's Island

Sunday I went back up to Randall's Island. On Saturday people had reported Common Goldeneye, Common and Red-Throated Loon, and Greater Scaup there. I haven't seen any of those this year, and my wife was at an orchid show, so off I went.

It was quite a slog. Especially the northeast shoreline, where most of the interesting reports were, was covered in eight inches or so of snow covered with an inch or two of ice crust. This is very difficult to walk on. The ice crust would sometimes hold my weight for a step or two, then I'd go crashing through. And when I was on top of the ice, it was treacherously slippery.

Worst of all, none of those birds were visible anywhere I went on the island. In particular, I wonder where the frequently-reported Goldeneye ducks are. If they're always way off near the Queens shore, I'm going to need bigger binoculars.

Anyway, I did see two Peregrine Falcons perched on two corners of a building in the mental health center. Those were my first Peregrines in New York County this year, and my 66th species in the county. The photos were distant and not great, but I may try to work one of them up, showing the birds--certainly a mated pair--each on its own corner.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bird and Moon

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Bird and Moon
Pale Male perched over Fifth Avenue and 79th Street

I wasn't in Central park very long this afternoon; still weary from a trek to the Bronx the previous day, I made a brief trip through the Ramble, and then headed out via Cedar Hill. There I met Karen Fung, who told me that Pale Male was perched on an antenna atop the building at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street.

When I got him in sight, I realized that the rising moon was visible in the late afternoon sky, and I found an angle where bird and moon were well-framed. And of course I thought about Rosemary Mosco's excellent nature comics, Bird and Moon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A sunny winter afternoon at the Reservoir

The afternoon was sunny, and I took a walk through the Park. Sometimes snowstorms bring in interesting new birds, but not this time. Finches, Downy Woodpeckers, and Grackles dominated the Evodia feeders; sparrows and Juncos foraged on the ground there.

The air was still, and so the snow clung to the tree branches, a rare sight in the Park. Quite a few Cardinals were around, handsome against those snowy branches. Here and there the "Kwirr!" of a red-Bellied Woodpecker rang out.

The Reservoir was frozen over except for a small area around the fountain. At first glance, it didn't seem to hold a lot of birds, but when I counted, I found over a hundred Canada Goose, about 130 gulls, almost all Ring-Billed but for a couple of Herring Gulls and one Greater Black-Backed; sixty or so Mallards, sixteen Shovelers, four American Black Ducks, and a pair of Gadwalls.

All was peaceful on this little island of open water in the sea of ice. Many of the Mallards and gulls were settled on the ice, but a few swam and bathed. One pair of Mallards flew up into the the fountain jets, beating their wings to hover in the spray, apparently just for the hell of it.

The Shovelers took off and hurtled northward, probably seeking better prospects at the Pool or the Meer. A small contingent of geese walked toward the edge of the Reservoir. One stood guard there while the other five foraged in the snow--for what, I couldn't tell.

Another snowstorm is coming in tonight, I'm told. At least the birds had this sunny afternoon to enjoy.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Superb Owl Sunday

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Long-Eared Owl, Central Park
"Who dares?" (Long-Eared Owl, Central Park)

The Long-Eared Owls are still in Central Park. I was finally able to get a good view of two of them. One was peacefully asleep until a squirrel messed with his head by walking back and forth on the tree limbs behind and in front of it. Long-Eared owls have the best alert expressions.

The other one wasn't disturbed by the squirrels.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Long-Eared Owl, Central Park
Just chillin'. (Long-Eared Owl, Central Park)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Van Cortlandt Park: Rusty Blackbirds and Tufted Titmouses

Friday, I closed out January by going to Central Park in the morning (and failing to find the Pine Siskin reported the previous day) and then up to the Bronx for a stroll through the southwest part of Van Cortlandt Park before visiting my aunts.

The highlight was a flock of 35 to 40 Rusty Blackbirds, foraging on the grass between the marsh area north of the soccer field and the nature center at the south end of the Parade Ground. It was a lovely sight. I've never seen so many Rustys at once.

Just east of the Parade Ground, I saw a few Tufted Titmouses (Titmice? Titmousim?), my first of the year and in fact my first since last Spring. Charming as always.

Pointer to a brief history of field guides

Megan Gavin on twitter pointed out a post by Laura Erickson about the history of field guides. Very interesting, check it out.