Saturday, June 28, 2014

Prattsville, conclusion

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Prattsville NY
Ruby-Throated resting by the roadside

Sunday morning in Prattsville, my host and I took a long walk down a road toward Schoharie Creek, and on a gravel path branching off from that. Unfortunately, neither road came very close to the creek itself, but there was a fairly good variety of birds, like the male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird above and this American Redstart.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Redstart, Prattsville NY
Redstart rockin' in the branches

There were interesting sights that weren't birds, as well.

Ed Gaillard: animals &emdash; Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt, Prattsville NY
why did the newt cross the road?

That's an Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt who crossed the road in front of us, and on our return a butterfly settled down on the driveway

Ed Gaillard: insects &emdash; Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly, Prattsville NY
goodness gracious, Great Spangled Fritillary

I know little about butterflies, but I think this is a Great Spangled Fritillary.

Back in the meadow next to the house, the birds continued singing all day long, but mostly stayed out of sight. The Song Sparrows were the most visible.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Song Sparrow singing, Prattsville NY
sing! sing! sing!

The Common Yellowthroats and the Chipping Sparrows sang constantly, but I only had glimpses of them. This is the closest photo I had of either species:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chipping Sparrow, Prattsville NY
Chipping Sparrow, momentarily out in the open

Other birds were in the vicinity as well--we had a glimpse of a Black-Billed Cuckoo and heard a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo sing several times. I never heard a Purple Finch singing, but they must be nesting nearby since I saw a small group of females.  This one stopped on a low branch for a minute until the others caught up; then they all flew away.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Purple Finch, Prattsville, NY
leading the way

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Prattsville: Bobolinks and Blackbirds

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bobolink, Prattsville NY
dig that crazy-looking bird

The bird I was most excited to see was the Bobolink. I'd never seen fany before, and when very early on Sunday morning I saw a blackbird with yellow on the back of its head perched on a power wire over a hayfield at a crossroads, I couldn't work out what it was. I watched it drop down into the tall grass, then pop back up on the wire. Its only vocalization was a guttural chuck, not as metallic as a Red-Winged Blackbird.

I riffled through my field guide, ruling out a vagrant Yellow-Headed Blackbird--and somehow missing the illustration of the Bobolink; I amaze myself sometimes, I really do. I was convincing myself that it was a red-winged having a really weird molt when another showed up. They both went into the grass, but minutes later, three more flew up from a field across the road.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bobolinks, Prattsville NY
OK, so not just a single bird having a weird molt

It wasn't until I got back to the house and sat down with the field guide that I spotted the Bobolink picture. Oh!

I hope those fields aren't mowed until the fledglings are ready to fly out (end of July). Earlier mowing would be a disaster for the Bobolinks. I saw those fields on Labor Day weekend last year and there were round bales still sitting in those fields and the grass looked like only a few weeks' growth, so maybe it will turn out all right. Here's an interesting article from the Audubon Society about the problems Bobolinks have nesting these days. (Unfortunately, the Bobolink Project website is down now; it looks like it had a lot of good information. Update 6/30/2014 - the site is back up.)

One of the other two corners of the crossroads had a field that was closely mowed, and the last was also in tall grass, but wholly occupied by Red-Winged Blackbirds.

The funny thing was, I was out for a walk on Saturday afternoon, and I didn't see any Bobolinks, only the Red-Wingeds. One male was posted a a sentry on a power line. He was giving repeated metallic chack calls, until I got within twenty yards, when he started giving high pitched calls and shuffling back and forth down the wire.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Winged Blackbird, Prattsville NY
he didn't like me one little bit

Once every minute or so, he'd fly off the wire and circle about 10-12 feet over my head, then return.

I think the Red-Winged young must be fairly well along, since I saw a few females coming out. Around here, at least, that doesn't happen until they're near fledging.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Winged Blackbird, Prattsville NY
Mama needs a break

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Prattsville trip, part one

We had a lovely weekend at our friend's place in Prattsville NY. I was up before 6am each day, which has left me needing a rest, but was quite fun.

The meadow in front of the house was full of singing Common Yellowthroats and Chipping Sparrows. There were quite a number of Chestnut-sided Warblers as well, and in the trees at the east end of the meadow was this singing Prairie Warbler.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Prairie Warbler singing, Prattsville NY
Sing it, baby!

I'll have more to say about the trip when I've caught up on my sleep--there were Bobolinks!--but for now I'll leave you with this pleasant scene of a Tree Swallow feeding its nestling.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallow feeding nestling, Hobart NY

That nest box was in nearby Hobart, home of a half-dozen nice used bookstores.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Jazz Singer

Here's the jazzy Orchard Oriole from Inwood Hill that I mentioned in an earlier post. Very cheerful.

I'm still sorting out video editing software. I wonder if there's any way to make a video less shaky after the fact. I'm not going to haul a tripod all over creation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's a hard life being a bird

It's a hard life, being a bird. On Saturday came the news that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird nest near Oak Bridge had been raided and destroyed by a Baltimore Oriole.

Photographer Roman Brewka was there when it happened and photos are on his website at in the "Recent Photos" gallery. They may be a little disturbing (or I may be too tender-hearted towards small birds), but he's an excellent photographer and you should check out his other galleries at least.

On a cheerier note, the latest set of Pale Male's offspring has fledged and today the area around the Toy Boat Pond was full of the cries of the young Red-Tailed Hawks. One remained perched in one place, taking a lively interest in passing small dogs.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk fledgeling Central Park
don't let your dog run off-leash, OK?

One of his siblings flew in and rested in the grass awhile.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk fledgeling Central Park
hawks on the grass, alas

People passed by; some noticed, some didn't.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk fledgeling Central Park
just another New Yorker

The third was calling frequently somewhere to the north, but eventually flew into another nearby tree.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Tailed Hawk fledgeling Central Park
this must be the place

I say this was "cheerier", but the squirrels, and especially the Grackles, didn't really agree. The Grackles especially were very unhappy about the hawks hanging around their nesting area.

In the Ramble, things were quiet. A strange thing happened while I watched this fledgling Blue Jay.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blue Jay fledgeling, Central Park
they grow up so fast

Once in a while an adult jay would come by and smack the youngster on the head. Is this parental affection among Blue Jays? Was the young bird too close to someone else's nest? It wasn't a mobbing--the adults weren't hanging around to harass the youngster, just coming around every couple of minutes, peck, off again.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Greene County trip planning

Friends of ours have a summer place in Prattsville NY (in Greene County in the Catskills), and they've kindly offered to take us up there for a couple of days soon.

We've been there twice before, once in mid-October and once in early September. It's a great place with a beautiful piece of land, given over to meadows and bordered by woods. The birding was a little sparse, although the first time we were greeted by a Ruffed Grouse as we pulled into the driveway

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Ruffed Grouse, Prattsville NY

and there were a number of Bluebirds in the area.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Eastern Bluebird, Greene County NY

In the September trip, we heard wild Turkeys--disturbed in the night by some predator, they went screaming past the house like the Wild Hunt--and also heard Great Horned Owls.

Since it will be nesting season this time, I'm wondering what else might be around. This is the western part of the county, out near the Delaware County line and fairly near Bearpen Mountain, though I don't think we'll make it over there. I wonder if there might be Pileated Woodpeckers in the area. Maybe some nesting warblers. All the eBird hotspots are in the east part of the county near the Hudson River, so that's no help.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Singers and nesters

My highlight for today was this female Cardinal singing at the Upper Lobe. I had no idea they ever sang.

Sorry for the unsteady (and unedited) video--I don't do video much, and I'm still working it out.

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is still on her nest near Oak Bridge. There were singing Robins all over the Ramble.

At Turtle Pond, which last year was a very active nesting area, there seems to be very little activity. The biggest drop-off is the Red-Winged Blackbirds--there were at least six nests last year, belonging to four males. This year, I hear a single RWBB in the area, and I'm not entirely sure he has a mate. I think this is because the Conservancy removed the tall phragmities grasses and replace them with slower-growing grasses; I think the blackbirds did not like the lack of cover at the time they were deciding where to nest.

Other missing nesters are more predictable. Downy Woodpecker--I watched a nesting pair all last June--won't re-use a nest hole, and Turtle Pond doesn't have many suitable trees. The Kingbirds I think are nesting on the other side of Belvedere Castle this year. I am surprised that I don't know where any oriole nests are; they're around somewhere, but probably also in the Ramble.

Grackles are nesting in numbers, of course. Just try to stop 'em.

I heard what I believe is that Common Yellowthroat with the odd pizza pizza song. I think of him as Little Caesar.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No owls for me!

So I'm really bad at spotting owls. I spent several hours in Inwood Hill Park again yesterday, and again failed to see the Eastern Screech Owls being reported there. There's supposed to be five or six of them, sometimes roosting on the same branch. They're pretty small owls, but that shouldn't be so hard to spot.

But not for me. It wasn't a total loss, though. I didn't see any new birds, but when I went down the hill to the shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, the tide was out, and a Great Egret was browsing the bleak mudflat.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, Spuyten Duyvil Creek

As I relaxed on a bench listening to the Song Sparrows, a female Red-Winged Blackbird popped up for a minute.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Winged Blackbird, Inwood Hill Park

And in one tree I heard first a Warbling Vireo, and then an Orchard Oriole singing a quite jazzily syncopated song.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Orchard Oriole singing, Inwood Hill Park

If I ever figure out how to edit video from my camera, I might post a little clip of this guy. Outstanding singer, well worth the trip.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Late warbler, angry birds

The weekend was a bit slow. We did see a late Black-and-White Warbler on Saturday.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-and-White Warbler, Central Park
B&W Warbler taking the leisurely approach to life

Nesting season continues. For Robins, nesting season started in April and will continue to about September. You may be familiar with the sight of two apparently peaceful Robins (males, seemingly) suddenly both flying up 8 or 10 feet and coming straight back down in a flurry. It's a bit too fast for my eye to follow, so I've been trying to get photos. I do have a nice shot of the scramble right after landing.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Robins fighting, Central Park
boys will be boys

Quite unfriendly. They don't seem to hurt each other, since they typically go a few rounds and then return to foraging calmly side-by-side.

On the rumors-of-birds front, I'm still seeing reports of Screech Owls uptown, so I will try Inwood again soon.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Common Loon

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Loon, Central Park Reservoir

Anders Peltomaa reported a Common Loon in full breeding plumage at the Reservoir Friday morning, a very nice bird for Central Park. I eventually made my way there at 5 PM. The loon was down near the south pumphouse, and I got off a couple of frames before it made one of those patented long loon dives and emerged about halfway to the north side. That left a bunch of Cormorants and a single Great Egret fishing just outside the pumphouse.

I noticed after a while that the Loon was slowly drifting toward the east side, so I hustled up there...I was still 30 yards away when the bird, about 20 feet offshore, dove again and simply disappeared.

Loons do that. There's a reason they're called the "Great Northern Diver" in Britain. The last Common Loon I saw, in February at Randall's Island, did not come up within a half mile of where I saw it dive.

Around the north side of the Reservoir, a single Merganser--I think a female or immature Hooded--made shallow dives and then slept fitfully, to far off for a good photo. Whatever the species, that bird is quite late for this area.

I was rewarded for completing the circuit when, as I rounded the southwest corner, I spotted the Loon again, between the fountain and the shore. It dove again as I ran to the area, but this time it came up only a dozen yards farther away, and I caught up and got the photo above. That's my best view ever of this very handsome bird.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Start of summer birding

Spring migration is over, and attention turns to unusual nesters and the occasional accidental sighting.

I went up to Inwood Hill Park Tuesday, following a report of Eastern Screech Owls (maybe transients, maybe taking up residence). I didn't find them, but I eventually made my way to Hudson River promenade, where there were quite a number of Mockingbirds and Song Sparrows.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Song Sparrow, Inwood Hill Park
Song Sparrow, singing

In between looking at them, I scanned the water--there was a goose family swimming across the river--and the Jersey cliffs. I caught sight of a tiny bright flash of white, and in my binoculars I saw a bird with a white head and tail, and an all-dark body and very long, all-dark wings. It could be nothing else but a Bald Eagle--as Peterson says, the bird is "all field mark".

I watched the eagle climb a thermal, high and higher, then glide north on flat wings and disappear in the haze. There were a couple of nesting pairs on the Palisades last year, perhaps this was one of them. It would certainly be very late for a migrating eagle.

No photo, alas. I could not get my camera to focus on such a small moving target so far away. I think it would have been about 20 pixels long even if I had snapped it.

The next day, I went out to Governor's Island to look at the nesting colony of Common Terns. I really don'r recommend going there on a weekday. Many of the areas listed as being open to the public are in fact blocked by construction, including a lot of the shore. Yankee Pier, where the most accessible nesting colony is, is a ferry terminal on weekends, but during the week it is padlocked lest someone steal it. You can only get a distant view of the terns from the shore.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Terns, Yankee Pier, Governor's Island
red-billed agents of the Common Tern

I did get a nice sculptural shot of some nearby cormorants resting.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cormorants, Governor's Island
sculptural seabirds

There were a lot of crows around. Some were silent, some cawed like American Crows, but several gave the distinctive nasal double call of the Fish Crow. (How do you tell a Fish Crow? Ask a crow it's an American Crow, and a Fish Crow will say "Nunh-unh! Nunh-unh!")

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is still on her nest at the Upper Lobe of Central Park Lake. The nest is now festooned with lichen, just like it says in the books.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruby-Throated Hummingbird on nest, Central park
hummingbird home decoration

The surrounding area is festooned with birders and photographers.

People are saying this is the first recorded hummingbird nest in Central Park. I don't know how it works with hummingbirds--if she has already laid the eggs, or if she is ready to lay but can hold them until the nest is ready, or if she's actually still in need of a male. In that last case, this may not turn out well--it's kind of late for hummingbirds to come through.

I'm finding it as hard to write about identifying Empidonax flycatchers as it is ti identify them in the first place, so that post may be a while. For now, let me just count up: I had Acadian, Yellow-Bellied, and Alder flycatchers (in addition to Least), which got me to 164 species. The Bald Eagle, Common Tern, and Fish Crow make it 167 in the county. Last year, I got my 167th species in November (and was at 145 on this date), so it continues to be a busy year.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Nesting season

The flow of migrants has pretty much dried up, and the resident nesting birds are dominating Central Park. The first broods of Robins fledged a couple of weeks back, and many nests are still active. Starlings, Grackles, and House Sparrows are tending their first crops of fledglings as well. Cardinals are nesting all over, and so are various woodpeckers. A number of Warbling Vireos and at least two Red-Eyed Vireos are singing in and near the Ramble, so presumably are nesting, as are Eastern Kingbirds at the Upper Lobe at least.

And then there's this:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruby-Throated Hummingbird on nest, Central Park

A Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, on a nest near the Upper Lobe. They don't usually nest in Central Park. I'm trying to fid out if that's ever happened before, in fact.

That nest is about the size of an espresso cup. It's made largely of spiderwebs and a bit of plant material. Usually there's some lichen stuck on the outside--I'm not sure this one is finished yet.

The next few weeks will be interesting.