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.

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