Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Juvenile American Kestrel, Central Park

Tuesday I walked up the Ravine and Loch in the north end of Central Park--there were a couple of Yellow Warblers--then over to the Mount, the Park's composting area. When it's been rainy, the ditches in the dump fill with water and interesting birds sometimes show up. It's been dry lately, but there was a flying visit from a juvenile American Kestrel, who made an unsuccessful pass at one of the resident Mockingbirds and then perched at eye-level on a woodpile, wagging his tail in frustration. The blur in the background of the photo is one of the mockers, who were supremely unimpressed, not even bothering to harass the predator.

As I left the park, Chimney Swifts sortied out over Harlem Meer, and three Great Egrets flapped majestically off to the northeast. Not sure where they were headed, maybe North or South Brother Island.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tufted Titmouses, hurrah!

Saturday I took a pleasant walk across Central Park. At Tanner's Spring I saw two warm brown thrushes with very blurry spots on the breast. First Veerys of the season!

Turtle Pond held ducks--mostly Mallards, including a mama duck with five ducklings in tow, plus a couple of what seemed to be American Black Ducks and one male Mallard/Black cross. All the male Mallards were transitioning to or already in eclipse plumage, which didn't happen this early last year. Across the pond, a Black-Crowned Night Heron stalked through the tall reeds. There were also a couple of male Wood Ducks, one in eclipse and the other in breeding plumage.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wood Ducks, Turtle Pond
Wood Ducks, breeding and eclipse plumages

The Ramble held the usual summer residents--Evodia had the first female Red-Winged Blackbird I've seen since Spring--and at Willow Rock, I had a nice surprise.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tufted Titmouse, Central Park
Tufted Titmouse, fluffing dry

Three Tufted Titmouses were bathing in the Oven--the first I've seen anywhere in Manhattan since early May of last year. They're usually ubiquitous in the autumn and winter, but they disappeared last year, and I missed them. I'm a little excited to see them again. They're my 171st species this year in the county.

Cedar Waxwings also bathed in the Oven.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cedar Waxwings bathing, Central Park
Waxwings taking a dip

I also saw a Black-and-White Warbler there--they're in early this year--and a Northern Waterthrush on the Gill near Laupot Bridge. On the way out of the Park, there was a Black-Capped Chickadee at Triplets Bridge.

So even in the deep summer doldrums, there are birds to see in Central Park if you care to look.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Monk Parakeets, Hudson River Greenway

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Monk Parakeet, Henry Hudson Parkway
I Mean You

Do you know about the Monk Parakeets of Brooklyn? Theories abound about how these Argentine birds came to live wild in New York; the leading ones seem to be that they escaped from a crate at Kennedy Airport in the late 1960s or that they were released by black-market importers when the Feds cracked down on the illegal bird trade. Whatever, they turned out to be cold hardy and colonized Green-Wood Cemetery and Brooklyn College.

In the last couple of years people started reporting these birds in upper Manhattan, especially along the Henry Hudson Parkway in the 150s, so I went uptown Friday afternoon to look for them.

I started at Riverbank State Park, about 145th Street and Riverside Drive (I took the 1 train, but the 11 bus has its last stop in the park as well). Riverbank is about 60 feet or so above the river; I'll bet its a good place to hawkwatch in the right season. Near the carousel on the north end of the park, there's a stairway (and an elevator) down to the Hudson River Greenway. I went north from there, along the narrow strip of greenway between the Henry Hudson Parkway and the river. After passing a sign for 155th street, I heard a wild, eerie screech from underneath the elevated road, and a trim green form flew past me overhead. I followed and found a roost with two of the birds in the girders under the parkway.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Monk Parakeets, Henry Hudson Parkway
Home sweet home. See how nicely they blend with the paint job?

They seem to like thick twigs and ivy leaves. They took turns flying out to gather more twigs, calling raucously on their way out and in. A lot of the weirdness of the call was due to the acoustics of the elevated roadway.

When I went back towards 145th, I saw several more parakeets--don't let the name fool you, these are big birds, not much smaller than a pigeon--flying from tree to tree. One of them flew low over the grass and buzzed a pigeon, who took off in alarm. Out from under the roadway their calls sounded like a young starling's begging call, but shriller and louder.

I sat on a bench about 150th Street, and saw two more Monks. Once you recognize the call they're easy to spot.

Monk Parakeet is my 170th species in New York County this year. That's 19 ahead of last year on July 25th, when I got my first Ruby-Throated Hummingbird of the year (missed it during Spring migration).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More warbler arrivals

Monday on my walk through the Ramble, I heard a House Wren singing in Mugger's Woods.  Since I'm always keen to get photos of singing birds, I followed him as he marked the border of his territory.  I never did get a long enough look for a photos, but on the path down toward the Ramble Arch, I found a Black-and-White Warbler doing what Black-and-White Warblers do.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-and-White Warbler, Central Park
...doing what Black-and-White Warblers do

White photographing her, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and high up. There was a Yellow Warbler, quickly gone, and then above that a Northern Parula.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Northern Parula warbler, without tail, Central Park
oh, the Parulas have no tails in the Ramble...

The Parula seemed to be getting along fine without a tail, but I assume he'll be around until he regrows those feathers. I see a bird or two every Fall migration without tail feathers, usually a warbler or sometimes a sparrow. I wonder why they start migrating before their molt, or what else it could be.

I didn't see the Worm-Eating Warbler reported at the Upper Lobe. I also didn't see much at Randall's Island on Tuesday--Black-Crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Spotted Sandpiper--but I assume the shorebirds will arrive in good time.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fall migration begins

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Louisiana Waterthrush, Central Park
We're baaaaack!

It's mid-July, and the first warblers are returning to Central Park. There were reports this week of Black-and-White, Northern Parula, and Common Yellowthroat in the Ramble; on Saturday I came upon a Louisiana Waterthrush on the Gill, just upstream of Laupot Bridge.

It's also the start of shorebird season. On Tuesday afternoon (July 15) James Knox found an American Avocet on a dock in the Hudson just south of Dyckman Street, "loafing with the gulls" in the words of one of the several lucky observers who saw it afterwards. It was gone the next day.

There've been a couple of reports of a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron in the saltmarsh at Little Hell Gate on Randall's Island. I didn't see it when I was there on Thursday--just a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper at the marsh on the north shore. Both the southwest shore and the northeast ball fields were full of Barn Swallows, so I have no complaints about the trip.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Middlesex Fells

Readercon's programming started on Thursday evening, so we had a day for non-con-related fun.  We went to Middlesex Fells Reservation, a vast park around a group of reservoirs.  We arrived at the "Lower Sheepfold", and were greeted by a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds, who roamed the grass undeterred by the off-leash dogs (the Sheepfold is a designated off-leash area).  Further in, Chipping Sparrows and Wood Thrush sang, and a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird flew across the path.

We found a path down to  a reservoir.  Surprisingly, there weren't any waterfowl or shorebirds in sight. Titmice and Chickadees sported in the pines, and we saw two Downy Woodpeckers chasing each other.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Downy Woodpeckers, Middlesex Fells (Massachusetts)
Dueling Downys

I was expecting nesting warblers, but didn't see any.  Perhaps we  were in the wrong place, or not looking in the right habitat.  We'll be better prepared when we go back next year.

There were chipping Sparrows at the edge of the parking lot when we returned, an adult and a streaky-breasted juvenile.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Birds where you find them

Every year, my wife and I go to Readercon, a literary Science Fiction convention in Burlington, Massachusetts. It's held at a Marriott hotel in the middle of a bunch of corporate campuses, about a mile from a huge mall. There are lawns and some trees, but it's doesn't look like a promising area.

Behind the hotel, between its parking lot and the parking lot of the office building next door, is a scruffy little wood, maybe an acre. There's a little pool, a puddle really, which I think is fed by the overflow pipe for the hotel swimming pool. There's a path between the parking lots through the wood, and I like to take a little walk there when there's an hour without any panels I want to see.

There are always a few birds around--Nuthatches, Robins, Mourning Doves, Catbirds. Sometimes a cardinal sings from someplace across the road, or a Titmouse.

Friday I spotted a little movement down in the shrubs at the edge of that puddle. Something small and furtive. Then I heard a rattling call, like the dial of a rotary phone. What could that be?

I waited. A catbird sang nearby, a nuthatch called further away. Then a wren popped up on a low branch.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Marsh Wren, Burlington MA
what's a nice bird like you?

Big white eyestripe, like a Carolina, but pale below and a grayer brown on top than a Carolina...Marsh Wren? It turned on the branch, and I had a glimpse of white stripes on the upper back. It got my camera up and the bird turned to face me, and sang that rotary trill again, then flew off right and down and sang again and again as it moved farther away.

That's only the second Marsh Wren I've ever seen. They're rarely seen in New York--it was a big deal when one showed up in Central Park on migration last year. I think they're common breeders in Massachusetts, but I'd never thought to find one behind a hotel. Birds are where you find them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Third time's a charm

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eurasian Collared-Dove, Pier 63, Hudson River Greenway
Mysterious Eurasian Collared-Dove, at last I've found you!

I went downtown again today to look for the Eurasian Collared-Dove. It was not around the Chelsea Waterside Park where people were seeing it this weekend, but when I reached the Pier 63 area, I saw a robust, light brown to cream-colored dove, a little smaller than a pigeon,
foraging alone on the lawn just across the path from the flower beds where it was first reported. It had black tips on its folded wings, no spots, a square tail, and--yes!--a black crescent mark around the back and sides of the neck. The part on the back of the neck was not visible in some postures and light but very obvious at other times, so it took a while for me to be sure I was seeing the object bird. But there it was.

I first saw it on the grass beyond a fence along the path,with benches on the path side, the nearest bench to the bird was occupied. After spotting the bird and having trouble photographing it, I circled around the far end of the fence and settled under a tree on a slight rise about 30 feet from the bird, who took no special notice of me and it eventually walked to within 8 feet of where I sat (and then away and back again).

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eurasian Collared-Dove, Pier 63, Hudson River Greenway
Not really a skittish bird.

The dove puffed up a couple of times to see off a robin and a fledgling starling. I noticed that adult starlings in the area nearby kept their distance, However, it walked rapidly away from two House Finches that flew in near it, and eventually flushed to the low branches of a conifer behind me after a group of five House Sparrows came and started dust-bathing a few feet from it. I think maybe it doesn't like small active birds.

After flying to the tree (and its wing sounds were like a Mourning Dove's, perhaps a little higher-pitched) the bird began to preen, and then moved farther back into the branches. I went for a walk around the flower beds and the native plant garden to the north, and when I returned, the dove was back on the grass in the same area.

So, I've seen the Collared-Dove. (That's 169 species in New York County this year.) I was starting to worry I'd be the only birder in Manhattan who missed it. Whew!

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's a hard life for a bird, and we're not much help

Sunday, I went to Riverdale to visit my aunts. By the bus stop is a building called "The Arbor", because they cut down dozens of trees to build it. Seriously, every tree on the block. It's a hideous building--the architect thought it would be ever so trendy to give it floor-to ceiling windows, to exploit the excellent views of the henry Hudson Parkway and a church parking lot.

For some reason, nobody wanted to spend several hundred thousand dollars to live in an ugly building with no view in Riverdale, so teh developer went bankrupt and wound up selling the building to Columbia University for cheap, which is unfortunate because otherwise maybe someone would have pulled down the building and tried again.

But there it stands, and of course the floor-to-ceiling windows kill a lot of birds--surprisingly, low rise buildings are the biggest hazard for bird strikes. Intuitively, you'd expect high-rises to kill more, but I guess high rises come into play only during migration.

Anyway I see two or three dead birds a year there, which is a lot since I pass the building at most once a month. Today it was this Downy Woodpecker.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Window-killed Downy Woodpecker, Riverdale (Bronx) NY
Window-killed Downy Woodpecker, Riverdale (Bronx) NY

Sometimes the follies of people make me angry.

There's an article on Cornell's website about cutting down on bird strikes--note that private homes are the second biggest collision threat to birds--and another one in their "Living Bird" magazine (I think this link leads to a PDF of the article itself).

End of rant, for the moment.

On a more pleasant topic, I struck out again on the Collard-Dove on Sunday Afternoon, but I did get a good look at a Raven flying over, not 30 feet away and maybe 15 feet up. Never seen a wild Raven that close before. Enormous bird, just amazing.

In the native plant garden there were a couple of Monarch butterflies.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Monarch Butterfly, Hudson River Greenway near 26th Street
Monarch Butterfly, stopping only briefly on his territorial rounds

This was a nice surprise considering what a good job we've been doing at making them extinct with Monsanto's help. Sorry, I said I was going to stop ranting. The parks department planted a good deal of milkweed in the native plant garden, and if you have milkweed, you'll get Monarchs. For now, anyway. There's a lot of information on the net about planting milkweed (here's one article--can't vouch for how good it is, since I'm no gardener), and if you are in a position to add it to your garden, every little bit helps.

I also spotted a Hummingbird Moth. I love those.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Hummingbird Moth, Hudson River Greenway
Hummingbird Moth--look at that curled tongue

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rumors of...

In case anyone actually checks this blog for bird reports: the Eurasian Collared-Dove (First reported by David Ringer on 6/22) was refound today (Thursday 7/3). Patrick Baglee found it early in the morning "on the Astro Turf pitch at 23rd and 11th Avenue", and David Barrett had it in the early afternoon "walking on the grass just south of the fenced-in soccer field and viewed it clearly from twenty feet away. This location is west of the intersection of 11th Avenue and 23rd Street and inside Chelsea Waterside Park."

The original report was along the river about 24th Street. So the bird is likely findable if you comb the area. I'll try again for it early next week. Also, the family of Common Ravens is still in that vicinity, so if you go for the dove, you likely can tick the Raven as well.

Further uptown, a steady trickle of reports of Monk Parakeets continues along the Hudson River Greenway from the 130s to the 150s. The most recent report was from Nadir Souirgi on Tuesday afternoon, of a bird entering a nest under the Henry Hudson Parkway around 156th Street. Monk Parakeets have long-established breeding colonies in Brooklyn, but reports from Manhattan are becoming more frequent.

Otherwise, there's the usual residents. Here's a very happy Cormorant on the Central Park Reservoir the other day.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Double-Crested Cormorant, Central Park Reservoir
summer picnic

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Mourning Dove feeding fledgling, Hudson River Greenway near Pier 63
Mourning Dove feeding fledgling, Hudson River Greenway near 24th Street

While I was upstate, I saw a report online from a reliable observer of a Eurasian Collared-Dove on the Hudson River Greenway just north of Chelsea Piers. That's quite a bird--though it's likely that one in this area is an escapee, there are established colonies in Florida, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility that this was a wild bird. So on Monday (6/23), I went downtown to look for it.

Alas, no Collard-Dove for me. There were compensations, though, such as the Mourning Dove I saw feeding a fledgling. Plus, I saw a Raven flying nearby--probably part of the family living on the Chelsea Hotel. That's my 168th New York County species this year.

There were also a lot of Mockingbirds--I saw two adults carrying nesting materials, and several recent fledglings.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Mockingbird  fledgling, Hudson River Greenway near Pier 63
fledgling Mockingbird, Hudson River Greenway near 24th Street

Later in the week, the Conservancy opened the Hallet Sanctuary for an afternoon. There wasn't much there--Orioles and Robins nesting, and I heard a red-Bellied Woodpecker nearby. I took a walk around The Pond afterwards, and many of the usual summer residents were in evidence. The first to really catch my eye was a Great Egret.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, The Pond, Central Park
Great Egret hunting, The Pond, Central Park

There were several adult Black-Crowned Night Herons flying around the pond, and an odd looking juvenile heron roosting near the far shore.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Young Black-Crowned Night Heron and turtle, The Pond, Central Park
when you stare at the turtle, the turtle also... well, the maybe turtle ignores you

Stripy throat and chest like a juvenal, but not speckled on the back. I'm guessing this is a first-summer Black-Crowned, not yet molted out of its stripes underneath.

Elsewhere, Robins, Catbirds, and Starlings were enjoying the summer crop of berries.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Robin eating berry, The Pond, Central Park
hit-and-run berry snatching

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Catbird eating berry, The Pond, Central Park
savor the moment