Monday, March 31, 2014

Rumors of... well, not warblers, yet.

Friday I saw my first Great Blue Heron of the year, a wonderful breeding-plumage bird, low in the willow at the end of The Point in Central Park Lake. A Black-crowned Night heron with breeding plume was in the same tree. Spring!

The GBH is my 83rd NY County species this year.

I see online that people have seen Winter Wrens at the Upper Lobe (and maybe elsewhere in the Ramble), a Field Sparrow at the Pin Oak swamp (the meadow in front of the Rustic Shelter), and there was a lingering Woodcock there and another northeast of Azalea Pond. Stephen Chang had a Golden-Crowned Kinglet in the Ravine/Loch area, and a Great Egret in Morningside Park, and Tom Fiore reported Chipping and Savannah Sparrows at the Great Hill (and a Savannah at the Sheep Meadow).

They're coming...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wigeon landing

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Wigeon landing, Central Park Reservoir

Tuesday I was at the Reservoir. An American Wigeon was sleeping peacefully on teh east side with some Black Ducks. I waited for some time. My patience was eventually rewarded when the Wigeon woke up and flew a short distance to join a group of Shovelers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Wigeon landing, Central Park Reservoir

The Red-Necked Grebe was still present on the west side, steadily coming into breeding plumage and fishing actively and successfully.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe fishing, Central Park Reservoir

I'm not sure how it managed to swallow this big fish.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Early Spring in Van Cortlandt Park

I was in Riverdale visiting my aunts and decided to take a stroll through the southwest part of Van Cortlandt Park before going home. On the way there, I watched five crows mob a Red-Tailed Hawk across the road from Brust Park.

At Van Cortlandt, Spring was swinging into motion. It looked so different from just two weeks before; snow had been everywhere and was now all gone, and the flooding was gone from the paths.

At the little freshwater marsh south of the Van Cortlandt mansion, many Song Sparrows were singing and some Red-winged Blackbirds calling, and a small group of Rusty Blackbirds popped out and back into the tall grass. Along the path northwest of the Parade Ground, Tufted Titmouses sang.

The best part was the marshy north end of Van Cortlandt Lake (just south of teh golf course fence), where countless Red-Winged Blackbirds called and sang, and then this guy cruised out of the reeds:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx NY
Ring-Necked Duck on Van Cortlandt Lake

A very nice Ring-Necked drake, always a good bird in New York City.

I worked my way eventually to the east side of the lake. There were some female Hooded Mergansers along with the Mallards on the south part of the lake, and yet more Red-Winged Blackbirds going off like alarm clocks everywhere. I especially liked this gaudy male:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Winged Blackbird, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx NY
High-steppin' Blackbird

Sunday, March 23, 2014

First Phoebe of Spring

Some birders mark the real beginning of Spring from the sighting of the first Eastern Phoebe. Though I'm not really one of them, I do admit that the first Phoebe does give a certain sense of Springitude to the proceedings.

Elena and I were having brunch and discussing where to go afterwards, and I checked my usual bird resources. On the NYNYBird web page (the web site for a text alert system I don't subscribe to; I don't like texts) was a message from Karen Fung: "E phoebe swampy pin oak. FOY?"

Certainly the first I'd heard of. So we went to the Ramble, intending to check the Swampy Pin Oak. That needs a new name, by the way, since the big Pin Oak was brought down in the aftermath of Sandy, but I digress.

We came up Cedar Hill, spotting a male baltimore Oriole there (maybe the one who wintered around Evodia), and entered the Ramble through Maintenance Meadow, and...

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Eastern Phoebe, Central Park
Phirst Phoebe

...there it was, our first Phoebe of the year. Ah, Spring!

Evodia was normally busy with the usual birds, including the female Baltimore Oriole. There were a lot of Downy Woodpeckers around.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Downy Woodpecker, Central Park
Downy glaring at an incoming house sparrow

We spotted another Phoebe a little south of the Humming Tombstone, and also our first Hairy Woodpecker of the year (life bird for Elena, and 82nd species of the year for me).

We looked for Woodcock in the Humming Tombstone area, with no luck, but at Tupelo Meadow we saw someone peering intently into the fenced area around the big Tupelo tree. She made a complete circuit, and then suddenly a football with wings burst forth from the middle of the area and flew south toward the Gill. So there are still Woodcocks around.

At the east end of Tupelo Meadow is a tree dark with sap. Two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were disputing ownership.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Central Park
winner and still champeen!

See how his crest is up? That's an agitated bird.

On our way back out through Maintenance, we saw this Swamp Sparrow in the meadow.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Swamp Sparrow, Central Park
Spring in his step

That's Spring all over.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

First day of Spring

Today was the first day of Spring, and I spent the afternoon in Inwood Hill Park. Walking along the river, I saw something moving on the river, screened from me by a tree on the bank. It dove, and I anxiously scanned the water for its return. And there it was, just a few yards offshore:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Long-Tailed Duck (Oldsquaw)

A Long-Tailed Duck, a life bird for me and my 80th species of the year. So I've made two trips to Inwood Hill, and gotten two lifers and two other year birds. Nice!

There was a raptor soaring north over the Bronx. It seemed too small for a Red-Tailed Hawk. Maybe a Red-Shouldered, but I couldn't make any field marks on it.

The interior of the park was very quiet--I could hear Cardinals singing and Jays calling, but there were few other birds, not even sparrows. But it was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Might as well be Spring

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Fox Sparrow singing, Central Park
What does the Fox sing?

Everything has started singing, it seems. Tuesday, a Fox Sparrow sang near the Humming Tombstone while I searched for Woodcocks. I eventually found them. They aren't singing, but I'm told they've been doing flight displays around 9PM in teh Maintenance meadow.

At Evodia, the male Baltimore Oriole who overwintered was singing. The female Oriole did not seem impressed yet. Considering what a hard time he gave her over the last couple of months, I don't blame her.

There's a Rusty Blackbird who's been hanging out near Azalea Pond. He's singing too, in the Rusty's rusty-hinge way. Song Sparrows were singing everywhere, and White-Throated Sparrows, and Cardinals. Jays were making a variety sounds, some of them joyful.

The first Black-Crowned Night Heron of the season was asleep in a willow at the Point, well-screen by branches.  (That's species number 79 for me.)

Today I started at the Reservoir. There wasn't much singing, but the Red-Necked Grebe is still around, it's neck getting more breeding-plumage red every day. Buffleheads were plentiful, and Shovelers.

More Buffleheads at the Pool, and a lovely warm red-brown Swamp Sparrow on the Loch, and more Song Sparrows singing.

On Fifth Avenue and 105th, a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks is building a nest. I saw them carrying nesting materials.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk building a nest, Fifth Avenue and 105th Street
Off to find more sticks!

They better get with it--I hear Octavia has laid her eggs already.

I saw on the internets that a Lesser Black-Backed Gull was in the middle of the Reservoir, so I went back there.  I don't have a scope, but I scanned the gulls as best I could; also took some photos and zoomed in on them.  Nothing promising.  Then I took another look at the reports, and saw they were about a first-cycle Gull.  There's no chance I'd tell a first-cycle Lesser Black-Backed from a young Herring Gull.  Wrong equipment, wrong birder.

I got home before the rain.  Spring tomorrow;  warblers soon.  Those I can recognize.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A sunny late-winter Saturday

Saturday afternoon, Elena and I went to the reservoir to look for some of the recent rarities. The areas of open water had greatly expanded in the last few days, and the remaining ice was a thin and sickly grey.

We got to see the Red-Necked Grebe, who came quite close to shore on the west side.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, Central Park Reservoir
The star of our show

Also fishing the west side were two Red-Breasted Mergansers. The drake was especially photogenic.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Breasted Merganser drake, Central Park Reservoir
Sharp-looking Merganser

Down near the south pumphouse was a sleepy-looking Ring-Necked Duck.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck, Central Park Reservoir
Sleepy-eyed Ring-Necked Duck

Alas, the American Wigeon was not present.

Several people told us there were several American Woodcock in the Ramble. You can never see too many Woodcocks, so off we went. We found a group of birders peering into the brush a little south and east of the Humming Tombstone. That's always a good sign. There was a Woodcock giving pretty decent views in the late afternoon light.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock near the Humming Tombstone, Central Park
Woodcock in the sun

There were supposed to be two others in the same fenced-off area. I walked around the edge and finally spotted one.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Woodcock near the Humming Tombstone, Central Park
You can tell it's a different Woodcock because it's facing the other way.

What a lovely afternoon!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Inwood Hill Park

I went up to Inwood Hill Park for the first time today. There have been reports for a week or so of White-Winged Scoter in Spuyten Duyvil creek and in the Hudson River nearby, and I figured I'd check it out.

It's not hard to get to. I took the #1 train to 215th street and walked up to Columbia's Baker Field athletic complex at 218th and Broadway, then up 218th a couple of block to the park.

There are a pair of coves just inside the park there, mostly full of gulls. Song Sparrows were singing along the shore. About halfway along the second cove, I spotted some dark spots out in the mouth of the cove, a little too far for my binoculars or camera to resolve. I backtracked to a point of land on the east point of the cove and saw they were a male Hooded Merganser and three female Greater Scaup (first of year for me). The Merganser was on patrol while the Scaup were mostly asleep.

Moving back down the cove, I ran into a gentleman who pointed out a Red-Tailed Hawk nest high in a tree over the nearby soccer field. he also told me how best to get to the part of Spuyten Duyvil creek west of the bridge (where some of the Scoter reports were from), and down to the Hudson. Turns out there's a path along the lower part of the big hill that makes up most of the park.

There was nothing in the creek between the auto bridge and the Amtrak bridge. I followed the path a half-mile south to an overpass over the train line and then down to the Hudson. I headed back north along the river walk to the end, and watched the river for a half-hour, but no birds appeared on the water.

I decided to backtrack to the coves to see if the Scaup might have woken up enough for a good photo, so back down the river walk, over the overpass, north along the path. I kept scanning the river; hope springs eternal.

Suddenly, dark dots on the water.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; White-Winged Scoters, Inwood Hill Park
Could those be...Scoters?

They sure looked like Scoters when I zoomed in on the photo, drifting down the river. So it was back down the path, over the overpass, up the river walk... by the time I got there, the Scoters were well past the end of the walk, which was probably the closest they got to shore. But they were still close enough for a decent photo.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; White-Winged Scoters, Inwood Hill Park
You can clearly see the "swoosh" mark on the faces of two of the males.

The Scoters' behavior was interesting. They were drifting backwards down the river, facing north. They'd dip their bills into the oncoming waves and occasionally dive into the current.

I watched them for a few minutes, and then they decided to fly north, well past Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and start over. The white patches on their wings were very evident as they flew. I elected to head south down the river walk, heading for the Dyckman Street exit at the south end of the park.

I was counting Song Sparrows when a huge white bird flew past me on the river, perhaps 60-80 feet offshore.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Whistling Swan, Inwood Hill Park

That's a Whistling Swan (Tundra Swan, they're calling it these days). For once my camera managed to focus quickly on a flying bird. Not the best picture, but you can see the essential features--all-while wings, dark legs and bill, long neck.

An excellent adventure. Greater Scaup, White-Winged Scoter, Whistling Swan bring me to 78 species in New York County this year. When I left the park, I saw a Kestrel chase a Red-Tailed Hawk high over Dyckman Street. That was the cherry on top.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

American Wigeon and Red-Necked Grebe on the Central Park Reservoir

The ice on the Reservoir is finally, slowly, melting. The area of open water around the fountain now reaches east to the dike and nearly to the southern edge; the whole dike (which runs down the center of the reservoir) is now open water, from the south pumphouse to the north pumphouse.

As the water opens up, new birds begin arriving. A Red-Necked Grebe has been sighted intermittently for several days; an Iceland Gull was spotted yesterday; Red-Breasted Mergansers have been around. The usual late-winter grew of Shovelers, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, American Black Ducks, and an occasional Ruddy Duck is present.

Today, rain was promised but only late in the afternoon, so I went around 2 PM to see what was around. Nothing out of the ordinary that I could see on the south edge; no Red-Necked Grebe and none of the gulls looked exotic. I watched a Ruddy Duck diving for a long time. After yesterdays long hike I found I lacked the energy to walk to the north part of the Reservoir; there was less open water there anyway.

Scanning the farther reaches of the open water, I saw a small bird diving repeatedly. Couldn't quite make it out. Ruddy? Pied-Billed Grebe? I watched a while. About 3:30, it was being harassed by gulls, and lifted off into a crazy twisting flight, dodging in and out of the air traffic and coming down square in the middle of a group of Buffleheads, who greeted her as one of their own, which indeed she was.

I thought about leaving, but I noticed that a lot of birds were arriving from the north. I decided to walk back to the south pumphouse and see if anything turned up. From about 50 yards off, I saw a duck frantically preening himself in the narrow strip of open water over the dike near the pumphouse. It had a shockingly white head. When I got closer, I realized it was an American Wigeon.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; American Wigeon, Central Park Reservoir

That's a pretty nice bird for Central Park (and a life bird for me, and my 75th species in New York County this year). After getting some photos, I sent an email to the NYS-Birds mailing list and a tweet to the #birdcp hashtag (and if anyone reading this knows who runs the @BirdCentralPark account that retweets that hashtag, can you ask them why they ignore my reports?) and went back to watching. He was a very itchy bird.

Eventually a few birders showed up and saw the Wigeon. I went back to the larger patch of open water, but nothing new had shown up. Eventually, about 4:30 or so, with the sky looking more threatening and the rain overdue, I decide to leave and headed back toward the pumphouse.

Just then, a birder whose name I unfortunately do not know came from that direction and said the red-Necked Grebe was present; he and David Barrett had been watching it swimming down the dike corridor. And there it was.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Red-Necked Grebe, Central Park Reservoir

This was a far better view than I had at Randall's Island last month, and I watched and photographed as the rain began to come down. I didn't care about the rain.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Catching up (2): Randall's ramble

Monday I went up Booby Wagner Walk (the East river walk north of 89th St.) Ward's Island Bridge, all the way around the island, and back down the Wagner Walk, about five miles in all. It was pretty quiet, although I did see a Red-Throated Loon in the east river west of the island, my 74th species in New York County this year.

The salt marsh at the north end of the island was full of Song Sparrows, and I saw an odd dark flat-headed sparrow who flew into the rocks with some Juncos and disappeared. Not sure what that was. It didn't reappear in the half-hour I watched the area.

Catching up: Woodcocks in the Ramble; Spring closing in on Van Cortlandt Park

Sorry for the silence. Saturday, Elena and I went to Central Park. There were two American Woodcocks in the Ramble, just northeast of Azalea Pond. One of them gave us a pretty good look. The Pine Warbler is also still around; I saw it bathing in the Gill just north of Azalea Pond, along with the American Tree Sparrow and a Cedar Waxwing. And the Baltimore Orioles are still at the Evodia feeders.

Sunday we went to the Bronx to visit my aunt who's rehabbing after a hip replacement, and we spent an hour in the southwest part of Van Cortlandt Park. Spring is coming--there were red-Winged Blackbirds calling all over the place, especially in the little freshwater marsh south of the Van Cortlandt mansion. There were also several Titmouse (Titmice? Titmousim?) and Chickadees. Van Cortlandt is the only place either of us has seen Titmouse since last Spring. There was still a lot of snow and ice in the park, and the path south of the Parade Ground was completely flooded in spots (and bordered by very slick ice). I can see why the city wants the Central park conservancy to share some of its resources--Van Cortlandt could really use some help.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Unknown knowns

To the categories of Rumsfeldian epistemology we can add the category of "unknown knowns": things we know without knowing that we know them. Yesterday as I approached Evodia, I saw a sparrow feeding on the ground with the White-Throateds and Juncos. All I saw from that distance was the shape and distinct white wingbars (one low and bold, one high and short and thin), but I immediately thought, "hey, the American Tree Sparrow is back". And so it was.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; American Tree Sparrow, Evodia, Central Park

I hadn't known that the wingbars were a good field mark for that sparrow.

I also saw a Rusty Blackbird just west of Azalea Pond:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Rusty Blackbird, near Azalea Pond, Central Park

But I knew right off what that was and why.

P.S. Googling around, I found a nice recent blog post about American Tree Sparrow identification t

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More things I hadn't seen before.

Every time I go out birding, I see something I haven't seen before. Monday, there was a Cooper's Hawk around at Evodia in the Ramble. It was pretty restless, kept switching perches every few minutes. Eventually it moved off past Azalea Pond toward the pin oak swamp.

A little later, a Red-Tailed Hawk flew in, a little east of Evodia. He was a very pale morph, possibly Pale Male himself, though he seemed like a younger (and even paler) bird. he sat fairly low in a tree, giving a good view.

After a few minutes, I saw the Cooper's flying low and fast north from Azalea Pond. The Red-Tailed took off after him! I got my binoculars on the Cooper's and saw it had a bird in it's talons--probably a Starling, maybe a small Grackle. The hawks disappeared over Tupelo Meadow, heading toward Belvedere Castle. The Red-Tailed was in surprisingly close pursuit.

I think the Red-Tailed figured the Cooper's would be slowed down from carrying off prey, and the he had a chance to harass it enough to make it drop its meal. Anyway, I'd never seen that before.

There was a Carolina Wren at Evodia--I'm not sure if the rescued wren was released already or if this was another bird. Word is the rescue was just dehydrated and will be fine. Another Carolina was near Willow Rock; didn't spot the Woodcock in the Oven. I was told the Pine Warbler was over at the Upper Lobe in the morning, but I didn't see it, though two Black-Capped Chickadees and a Brown Creeper were there.

later, I saw two Red-Tailed Hawks soaring over Central Park West around 81st Street. I thought it might be a mating flight, and watched for a while. Suddenly the male dove toward the building on the corner, flushing out another male Red-Tailed. It looked like he might actually have hit the third hawk. The female joined in the pursuit, and the three disappeared southwest behind the Museum of Natural History.

So that's two new things.


I forgot to mention the other day, the Pine Warbler, Woodcock, and Red-Winged Blackbirds on Sunday get me to 73 species in New York County this year, and 74 overall.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Spring is coming!" "He is?"

Elena and I went to Central Park today.  We were particularly looking for the very early Pine Warbler that has been reported recently and for the American Woodcock reported in the Oven yesterday, which would be year birds for both of us.  The Woodcock especially is infrequent in the Park, and not common for New York in general.  Also we hoped for the American Tree Sparrow who has been seen around Evodia lately, which I have seen but Elena had not; and for Red-Winged Blackbirds, quite common but neither of us had seen any this year.

Well, we got them all.

First, we saw Cedar Waxwings between Maintenance and the Gill source.  Next, the Pine Warbler was practically the first bird we saw when we got to Evodia.  It was bouncing around on the ground just a few feet from the fence on the south side of the field.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Pine Warbler, Central Park, late winter

Later the American Tree Sparrow showed up, and the female Baltimore Oriole who's been around all winter (didn't see the male today), and also a Rusty Blackbird,

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Rusty Blackbird and friend, Central Park

and several Brown Creepers, and the other usual birds.  I could hear male Red-Winged Blackbirds going off all over the place, but none were in sight.

We went for a walk around Willow Rock (we didn't spot the Woodcock) the Riviera (nice bunch of Song Sparrows), and the Pin Oak swamp (nothin'), then returned to Evodia where Kevin (a very good birder) told us he had in fact seen the Woodcock at the Oven, and kindly led a small group over to see it.  With his help, we got a nice view:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; American Woodcock, Central Park

Eventually we went back to Evodia, where the RWBBs finally came out before being flushed by our final first-of-season sighting:  an entitled asshole letting his dog run off leash.  Spring is coming!

First RWBB of the year

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; In voice
an oldie (3 April 2010): Red-Winged Blackbird calling

I've been sporadically birding in the southwest part of Van Cortlandt Park and a small nearby park called Brust Park, because my aunt is in a nursing home in the vicinity (rehabbing after a hip replacement). So I was in Van Cortlandt in the late afternoon today.

It was pretty quiet. I went up behind the Golf House, but there wasn't anything there but a single Downy Woodpecker. On my way back, I passed a small phragmites marsh south of the Van Cortlandt Mansion. There was a mixed group of sparrows--White-Throated, Junco, one Song--which scattered as a juvenile Cooper's Hawk came out of the marsh and perched low in a tree.

As I left the park, I heard a familiar check-check-SCREEEE call, and scanned the trees. A Red-Winged Blackbird was at the top of one tree; my first of the year. People have been reporting them in Central Park over the past week, but I haven't see any there yet.

Cooper's Hawk and Red-Winged Blackbird make 30 species in the Bronx this year for me. The RWBB is my 72nd species overall this year (that and Tufted Titmouse I've only had in the Bronx this year).