Thursday, October 30, 2014


Ed Gaillard: insects &emdash; Monarch Butterfly, Central Park
Monarch Butterfly

To celebrate our anniversary last Saturday, Elena and I went to Central Park.  We got married in the Conservancy Garden, in a downpour; this year, it was bright and sunny, with the North Garden in riotous bloom and a bunch of Monarch Butterflies.

Ed Gaillard: insects &emdash; Monarch Butterfly, Central Park
a riot of color

We counted at least nine in the North Garden, and another half-dozen in the rest of the Park.  That's more Monarchs than I've seen in one day in at least three years.  Maybe Monsanto hasn't quite managed to drive them extinct yet.

Before the garden, we walked down Harlem Meer from 110th Street.  A couple of Ruddy Ducks dozed on the Meer, and kinglets, Song Sparrows, and Hermit Thrushes were abundant.  Then we saw this:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Turkey Vultures, Central Park
Most people wouldn't consider this a good omen for a wedding anniversary. We're different!

First, four Turkey Vultures drifted over the Meer from the northwest.  Minutes later, they were joined by a flock of at least twenty, who kettled up over the North Woods.  I've never seen a big group like that over the Park.

The vultures headed south--I saw a couple of other reports later of a group of 4 followed by 25 farther downtown.

Up on the Mount near the compost area, there were a flock of Chipping Sparrows (I was unable to turn any of them into Clay-Colored Sparrows by simple force of will, alas), and my first Fox Sparrow of the season.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Fox Sparrow, Central Park
crazy like a Fox Sparrow

On the path back down to the Conservancy Garden were a bunch more Kinglets, mostly Golden-Crowned.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Central Park
Whaddaya want? I'm busy, here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Welcome to the working week

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Central Park
excitable boy, they all said

It's Kinglet season! Walking through the Ramble, you'll see dozens of them. There are also sparrows coming through, like this juvenile White-crowned Sparrow.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Crowned Sparrow, Central Park
the young and the restless

We're also seeing a lot of Winter Wrens. I saw a half-dozen in a half-hour walk one day. I don't remember seeing such concentrations before.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Winter Wren, Central Park
winter is coming

There are migrants on the streets of the city as well. Last Monday morning as I hurried in to work, this Common Yellowthroat popped out of a tree pit on 40th Street near Park Avenue.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, Park Avenue and 40th Street

Raptor migration is in full swing, too; Monday ended with a Peregrine Falcon followed by a Bald Eagle soaring over Grand Central Station heading south-southeast.

Meanwhile life for the city residents continues apace. We can all enjoy the landscaping around the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; House Sparrow, NY Public Library, Fifth Avenue
getting a street snack on Fifth Avenue

By the way, the reports from Randall's Island the last couple of days are amazing--Nelson's, Saltmarsh, Vesper, Eastern Meadowlark. If you have time to go there, it sounds wonderful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blue Grosbeak, Purple Finch

I was feeling poorly on the weekend, but then I saw a report online of a Blue Grosbeak at The Pond in Central Park. That's a very nice bird for Manhattan. And so, off Elena and I went.

It was supposed to be in the area just over the fence to Wollman Rink--the same place the Marsh Wren had been the other week.

We were waiting only a little while when I heard a low metallic chink and a big-beaked brown bird popped briefly into view in the midst of the reeds. It was gone in seconds, too fast to make an ID, but we assumed it must be the hero bird.

The next wait was longer, but knowing the bird was in the area made it easier. Eventually there was another low call, a stirring in the phragmites a bit farther back, and--

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blue Grosbeak, Central Park
our hero

--there it was. Chunky grosbeak beak, very warm brown, sort of a crest, rufous wingbar. That's the bird. I think the fact that teh other wingbar was pale means that it's an immature bird rather than an adult female, but I'm not sure.

The Blue Grosbeak was a life bird for both of us, and my 183rd species of the year in New York County.

My 182nd was a Purple Finch at the Evodia feeders in the Ramble.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Purple Finch, Central Park

So there are still a lot of nice birds coming in this Fall.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Surprises and diversions

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, Inwood Hill Park

Sunday, Elena and I went up to Riverdale to visit my elderly aunts. The bus was stuck in traffic on the Harlem River Drive near Macomb's Dam Bridge. I was looking out the window up at the clear blue sky, and I spotted a hawk, circling up a thermal on straight wings. Its wings were wide and pointed, and dark-bordered, and the bird was light underneath with a thick black subterminal band on the tail--a Broad-Winged Hawk, my 181st species of the year in New York County.

Coming home, we were intending to take the West Side express bus from Riverdale. We had discussed maybe taking a local bus to go to Inwood Hill Park, but decided that we'd rather walk through Central Park and look for the Pine Siskins peopel were reporting at teh Shakespeare Garden. As we walked to the bus stop, no less than 6 local buses passed us. Then I looked at the MTA's handy bus tracking app. There was no bus within an hour of us. We took the seventh local bus instead. Clearly Something wanted us to check out Inwood Hill.

All the sandpipers and plovers were gone from Muscota Marsh. Song and Swamp sparrows were plentiful in the tall grasses, and a single Great Egret hunted in the outgoing tide.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret fishing, Inwood Hill Park

Over in the big cove were many ducks and geese, and a single Kingfisher.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Belted Kingfisher, Inwood Hill Park

It was a very pleasant interlude, but I'm still not sure why Something sent us all those buses.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Far from the madding crowd, not close enough to the maddening gull

Saturday, after the rain, I was finally able to go out to Randall's Island for the first time in weeks. I was looking for a little orangy bird, Nelson's Sparrow, that had been sighted in the salt marsh on the northern tip of the island. The last report was of three birds on Monday the 6th.

I had no luck with the Nelson's. At the west end of the marsh were many Swamp Sparrows, some Song Sparrows, a few Common Yellowthroats. A hundred or so yards away, at the other end, a group of Savannah Sparrows jumped in and out of the bushes onto the grass and back in.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Savannah Sparrow, Randall's Island

After a couple of times back and forth along the marsh, I continued around the northeast shore. Three more Savannah Sparrows seemed to follow me around. Sometimes I flushed them, sometimes they flew past me and led me up the shore.

It was quiet. The solitude was wonderful. Almost nobody was ever in sight. two joggers, once, and a man walking a dog.

There is a small hill at the south east end of this area, past the ball fields and jest before the fire department training area. I sat on a bench at the top of the hill for a while. When I want down the hill, a Kestrel flew past me and perched on a lamppost at the top.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American kestrel, Randall's Island
industrial Kestrel

Just then, a couple with two dogs started up the hill, the first people I'd seen in an hour. I got my camera ready.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Kestrel taking off
it was time to hunt anyway

I didn't think the Kestrel would care for them. Besides, it was time to hunt. I went back to the salt marsh.

There was still no sign of unusual sparrows. I waited a long time. As I got ready to leave, I scanned the opposite shore of the Bronx Kill, and noticed a rather small, slim gull, much smaller than the Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls nearby.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island
on shore, left to right:  Herring, mystery gull, Ring-Billed.  In the water, juvenile, probably a Herring

That was interesting. I'm not good at gulls, but I didn't think we had any small white-headed gulls. Maybe it was some kind of tern?

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island
maddening gull

Not a tern surely. Smallish bill, though, and kind of a dark spot behind the eye. I paged through Peterson's. Hmm, maybe a winter-plumaged Bonaparte's? That would be a good bird--a lifer for me, in fact, though not a screaming rarity. Maybe a Laughing Gull, but it seemed much too small--Laughing Gulls are only a little smaller then Ring-Billeds.

The gull moved several times--it didn't care to stay around the bigger gulls. I don't blame it--gulls in general are assholes, though they weren't really bothering the smaller bird.

Eventually, it flew north out of sight around the eastern Bronx shore.

Time to go home. A Kingfisher came out and hunted along the Bronx Kill, and perched near the New York Post plant.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Posted
Kingfisher, posted

when I got home, I looked over my many photos of the gull to try to definitely ID it. I had a few of the bird in flight.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island

Drat. Those aren't the wings of a Bonaparte's--they have kind of a white triangle thing going on on the top of the wing, and usually some black on the trailing edge. Laughing Gull. Oh well. A fine afternoon out, anyway.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Road trip: Morris County, NJ

Sunday, some friends brought us out to Morris County, NJ. They started with a gesneriad show at the Frelinghausen Arboretum; I walked around the grounds. I had been surprised that there were very few eBird reports from the arboretum, which seemed to have a nice location with a brook that was once attached to the Whippany River. But it turned out not to be very birdy.

My highlight was an assortment of sparrows in the scrubby plants at the end of a dry gully near a wildflower meadow. I thought at the time they were mostly Song Sparrows, but my photos turned out to be mainly Savannah Sparrows.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Savannah Sparrow, Frelinghausen Arboretum

I think there may have been one Vesper Sparrow in the bunch as well, but that one only popped out very briefly, so I don't know. A couple of the Savannahs had very strong eye-rings, so maybe that's all I saw.

One of my friends saw two Red-Headed Woodpeckers chasing each other near the arboretum's visitor center. I missed that, unfortunately.

Next stop was the Raptor Trust. This excellent organization is a rehab center for injured hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and vultures. They treat and release the ones who can make it in the wild, and keep the ones who can't.

We toured the area with the permanent residents' cages. The cages are mesh, so photography is difficult. Sometimes one can get a good shot--get up right close to the cage when the bird is in the back of the cage, use the longest focal length you have, shoot it wide-open.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Screech-Owl, Raptor Trust
"Winky" the Eastern Screech-Owl

Finally, we went to the observation area of the Great Swamp NWR. As we got out of the car, a vulture soared over--flat wings, whitish wingtips, grey head--a Black Vulture, and a life bird for me.

The swamp was pretty quiet. There were one or two Palm Warblers; at a blind overlooking a wet meadow a Great Blue Heron flew low through the golden late afternoon light.

As dusk came down, a Tufted Titmouse family crossed the path I was on, complaining all the way into the underbrush.

An excellent day.

Getting late in migration

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Central Park
stock Fall warbler photo

Monday in Maintenance meadow (Central Park), I saw my first Yellow-Rumped Warblers of the Fall. To me, that means it's getting late in the migration season.

Carolina Wrens seem to be back in the Park in numbers. I saw a few last week who might have been passing through, but Monday morning I heard a singing battle rage at the east end of Turtle Pond, their songs ringing out through the crisp autumnal air.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; A cold grey morning (1)
remembrance of wrens past

If there are males working out territory boundaries that close--the two birds were probably ten yards apart at most--there must be a lot of them around staking out claims. They'll be staying the winter in that case--Carolinas stay on territory year-round and don't migrate seasonally--and I hope it's a mild one. The reason there's territory open for this new bunch to stake out is that this past winter was harsh enough to kill all the resident males in the area.  It's not an easy life, being a bird.

In Manhattan birding news, there was a White-Rumped Sandpiper at Muscota Marsh in Inwood Hill Park on Friday afternoon. It appears to be the first recorded in New York County, though they show up every couple of years somewhere in the region. This one hasn't been seen since Friday, but there's been a Semipalmated Plover returning at intervals, so who knows--this shorebird might come back.

Also, on Friday, a Nelson's Sparrow was seen in the saltmarsh at the northern tip of Randall's Island (right behind ballfield 42); another one was spotted at the Loch in the north end of Central Park on Sunday, and then three (!) more at the Randall's Island saltmarsh on Monday. That's a really good bird for New York (and a rather pretty orangy sparrow, too).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Strike three!

I went back to Madison Square Park this morning, not that the MTA was any help. I walked around for forty minutes or so. No Connecticut Warbler. There were a few Common Yellowthroats; two of them came and perched in a tree right in front of me. They were very cute, but didn't hold still for a double portrait.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, Madison Square Park
good morning!

Also some White-Throated Sparrows and three Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. No Connecticut. Oh well.

Late in the afternoon, there was a report of yet another Connecticut, in Central Park's Strawberry Fields. Like the other two Connecticuts, it was apparently walking around out in the open rather than skulking deep in the foliage. I wouldn't know, obviously,