Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas present; Year-End wrap-up

Christmas present

My other Christmas present, besides the Kingbird, was a spotting scope. I took it for a spin on Randall's island on Sunday. Randall's was pretty quiet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Downy Woodpecker, Randall's Island
Downy Woodpeckers were the most interesting land bird I saw that day

The scope worked fine-I saw for the first time Common Goldeneye ducks off in the channel near Riker's Island. I didn't get photos of them--haven't got the hang of taking photos through the scope yet. When I tried, I wound up with shots like this:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Digibad

Those are Cormorants off on a channel marker rock probably a mile from Randall's Island. The big one on top is a Great Cormorant, the others are Double-Crested.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Brant in flight
Brants doing laps

A flock of Brant that was feeding on one of the ball fields with Canada Geese took off just after high tide, flew around the northeast shore area about four times, settled in eastern mouth of the Bronx Kill, and then swam off east.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Riverscape with Brant
riverscape with Brant

Odds and Ends

The other day, as I passed through the Ramble Arch on my way west, I heard a Carolina Wren singing loudly above. Good morning! He came down to forage--I didn't get much of a photo of him in the brush, but he was quite a cheering sight.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Carolina Wren, Central Park
an obscure but cheering sight

Today, I spotted a Chipping Sparrow along the path down the Gill source to Evodia.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chipping Sparrow, Central Park
oh, Chipping Sparrow, why are you here?

He's very late indeed, but a Chipping did winter here last year. There was a good-looking Sapsucker at Evodia, too.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Evodia
Sapsucker at work

The eBird system doesn't think the Sapsucker is late, but I do. Still there clearly must be sap running in that tree somewhere.

Year-end Wrap-up

The Goldeneyes were species number 190 for the year in New York County for me. Barring a Redpoll or something popping up in the Park tomorrow morning, that's my count for the year. That includes a Budgie, which isn't really a bird you should count. Last year I had 176 (including both Budgie and Canary). I had a lot more time to bird the first eight months of the year than previously.

There's not many birds I regret missing this year in Manhattan (though I am a bit sorry I never trekked out to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to see the Snowy Owl last winter). No Bluebirds, is the main disappointment. There were not a lot of sightings this year. I made a pretty good effort looking, including long silent walks along the top of Inwood Hill. Just not a Bluebird year for me. I missed several Connecticut Warblers--they'd be my nemesis bird if I were a good enough birder to have a nemesis bird. Again, I put a fair effort into looking. I missed the Yellow-Throated Warbler that was around the Tavern on the Green area in Central Park for a week in the Spring. That one I made only two real tries at; I should have tried harder. I didn't see Zelda the Battery Park Wild Turkey this year. Whenever I was down there, she was hiding out. Now I'll never see her again. She had a heck of a long life for a Turkey.

But I saw many more. The best of the year was right at the end, the lovely Couch's Kingbird, a perfect combination of rarity and beauty. But I saw a lot of other wonderful birds, new to me--some rare, some not--Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semi-Palmated Plover, Cerulean Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, White-Winged Scoter, Long-Tailed Duck, Snow Bunting, Red-Necked Grebe... about 30 life birds in the year, which is amazing considering I didn't travel much--almost all of them in New York City.

I figure there's about 35 to 40 species that are regular migrants or frequent visitors here, that I haven't seen yet, so I won't be running out soon--the pace will slow way down since I've seen most of the easier ones. Looking forward to it.

Then there were all the regular birds, the ones I already know. I never see them without enjoyment, never without learning something new. In particular, standing all alone on the shore of Randall's Island while Tree Swallows zoomed around me, courting and feeding and mating, is something I will never forget as long as I live. A perfectly usual bird, seen in a way I never dreamed of. My best moment of the year, even better than the fancy Kingbird.

I'm looking forward to more. I'll have less time for birding in 2015, but I'll be out every chance I get. I have a scope to learn to use, and a hankering to figure out how to photograph birds in flight; and I know more about where and how to look for birds then I ever have. And I'm looking forward to all of it.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallow and nesting material, Randall's Island
Tree Swallow, familiar but brilliant

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
the hero of the hour

Well, the first thing Christmas weekend brought me was a head cold. After spending Christmas Day in bed, I struggled in to work on Friday morning--and then struggled right back out on Friday afternoon to chase the reported Couch's Kingbird in Greenwich Village. Luckily I have an understanding boss.

Couch's Kingbird is a Central and South American bird, with a range extending into southern Texas and no reported sightings in New York before now. But apparently one has been hanging around a vest-pocket park at Jane and Washington Streets for six weeks or so--and nobody reported it until Christmas Day, when Zack Winestine, who found the bird, told Gabriel Willow, who posted it that night on the NYSBIRDS-L mailing list, and the next morning it was off to the races.

I got down to Jane Street about 2 PM. A knot of birders was on the corner opposite the little park. Ken Gayle had just seen the bird, but it had flown. I walked around the block and then into the park, thinking about where I would be if I were a flycatcher.

The answer came when I rejoined the other birders, who had just gotten a call that the bird had been sighted at Bleeker and Hudson, and off we went.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
that first glimpse!

There we found sixty-plus birders, and one bird.

Ed Gaillard: street scenes &emdash; Bird paparazzi, Abingdon Square
the bird paparazzi

A lot of passers-by were curious about what was going on. Everyone was happy to explain about the bird, the first state record, and all that. "And this is what always happens when there's a first sighting of a bird in the state," I told them, "the bird paparazzi all come out."

Ed Gaillard: street scenes &emdash; Bird paparazzi, Abingdon Square
or maybe "birderazzi?"

So, Couch's can only be distinguished from a Tropical Kingbird -- a more numerous species with more vagrant records -- by voice, and this one wasn't calling. It's possible I heard it call once--when a kestrel flew overhead calling, and wouldn't that have been a bad scene--a sharp kip! Maybe.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
ready for action

Luckily it had been calling that morning and was heard and recorded by people who could positively ID it.

Eventually I headed back to work, checking on the Ovenbird still present in Bryant Park and making it back to the office inside the two hours I had told the boss I'd need. Urban birding, there's nothing like it.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Couch's Kingbird, Abingdon Square
you made it to the end, so you get one more pic of the pretty bird

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shopping season

It's Christmas shopping season, and birders are looking for some end-of-year bargains. In Manhattan, there don't seem to be many. No new rarities on the Christmas Bird Count, and my eBird "year needs" list is just empty--nobody has seen any birds recently that I haven't had this year.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Northern Flicker, Randall's Island
convenient to Midtown

I went up to Randall's Island on Saturday, hoping for the Nelson's Sparrow that kept getting reported through the second week of December. No dice. No Snow Geese, or pipits, or Common Goldeneye, or visiting raptors. Some Red-Breasted Mergansers were there, which is always nice to see, and this one Flicker surveying the landscape.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Turtle Pond
ducks on the pond

Down in Central Park, we have the usual winter waterfowl variety--even on Turtle Pond there are a couple of Hooded Mergansers and some Buffleheads.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Siskins bathing, Central park
Pine Siskin bath time

Pine Siskins continue to show up, and a very few Purple Finches and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, but not much else in the way of irruptive species. Common Redpoll has been absent, and generally those are more likely than Siskins.

We'll see if Christmas weekend brings us anything.

Best wishes to you for a happy solstice-related holiday of your choice.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Warm day, bath day!

Wednesday morning came up sunny and unseasonably warm, and the birds took advantage by getting nice and clean. Pale Male took a dip at the southeast end of Turtle Pond, while a few Mallards dabbled nearby and a single Bufflehead fished.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; pale Male bathing, Turtle Pond
the royal bath

Over at the other end, starlings splashed around in a puddle.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Starling bathing, Central Park

Downtown, at Bryant Park, I was looking for the Ovenbird (didn't find it) when this weird apparition popped up in front of me.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, Bryant Park
fresh from the bath

It took me a minute to figure out it was a Common Yellowthroat dripping wet from a dip in the park's fountain. People have been reporting a Common Yellowthroat in Bryant Park all autumn, but I hadn't seen it before. A very friendly bird--it accepted a few sunflower seeds and hopped all around me for a minute.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, Bryant Park
fluffing dry

You can see it was drying off pretty quickly.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Central Park Christmas Bird Count

I was up at 6:30 this morning and at the south pumphouse of the Central Park Reservoir by 7:45 for the Christmas Bird Count. The count divides the park into seven zones--northeast (Harlem Meer and environs), Northwest (the North Woods mostly), the Reservoir, teh Great lawn, the Ramble, Southeast (the Pond and environs), and Southwest (usually the least productive area, having no real water feature). I joined the Reservoir team this year (last year I did the Great Lawn).

It was a pleasant day to be out. Last year was miserable, icy and slushy, all the joys of bad footing and of getting your feet soaked through; but this year was warm for December, and partly sunny, and dry. But not birdy. The best birds of the day for us were right atthe start--the three Ring-Necked Ducks still hanging out in the southeast corner of the reservoir.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck
who's the best bird? you are!

Other than that, it was slow. We had a Kestrel along Central Park West around 94th Street--heard it first, calling klee-klee-klee! and then spotted it perched on a rooftop. Later we had what turned out to be the only Cedar Waxwing in the whole count. There were a goodly number of woodpeckers, including two Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. I think it's rather late for them to be here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At the compilation, it turned out that there were only 56 species seen in the whole park. Some of the missing species were pretty shocking--no Red-Winged Blackbirds--and numbers of some common species were very low--only a hundred-odd Robins, a couple of dozen Cardinals. Not sure what's going on with that. At least the Titmousen and Nuthatches were back in force after being basically missing last year.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Throated Sparrow bathing
plenty of these guys, though

Monday, December 8, 2014

Early Winter notes

I'm sad to report that the American Woodcock that was sighted many times in Bryant Park in November, died. I saw it lying on a bare patch of ground in the southeast part of the park on December 2. It's a hard life, being a bird.

The Ovenbird in the northwest corner is still hanging on.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ovenbird, Bryant Park
hanging in there

It appears completely without fear of Man, which I suspect means it is very hungry indeed. The other day I tried feeding it pumpkin seeds, and it seemed interested, but they were apparently too large for it. I suppose I could crush some. Or maybe sunflower seeds? Dried fruit? I need something I can carry around for days without it rotting. I can't just leave food out for the pigeons and sparrows to eat (they're doing fine, anyway); I want to feed this particular bird on the days I see it in the morning.

Bryant Park also has a female Towhee I first noticed last Thursday, and saw again today.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Towhee, Bryant Park
Towhee and friends

I assume that, being a sparrow, she'll be fine eating whatever the crowd of White-Throateds subsist on.

Several Catbirds are still there as well.

Nothing very out-of-season has showed up in Central Park that I know of, though a pair of Ring-Necked drakes continues in the Reservoir. By the way, the Conservancy's renovation of the running track continues to close off more and more of the Reservoir from observation; and somehow they never seem to finish work on any part of it before closing off more. Very annoying.

A Goshawk appeared in the north end of Central Park on Sunday. Nadir Souirgi, who spotted it, thought it's behavior meant it might hang around at least a day or so. Also, there have been a steady stream of sightings of red-Shouldered Hawks in the area.

I went out to Randall's Island on Sunday and walked all around. There was nothing much to report there. No Pipits appeared to me, nor did I spot the Nelson's Sparrow (still reported as of 11/29).

The Central Park Christmas Bird Count id this Sunday (12/14) at 8:00am, meeting at the south pumphouse of the Reservoir. That rounds out the birding year. I started this blog right after last year's CBC.