Thursday, January 28, 2016

Five years ago this week

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Fox Sparrow, Central Park

I felt like sharing a couple of photos from a few years ago, when I was getting out birding a lot more then I have this winter.

Five years ago this week, Central Park was covered with snow, just like now. I was seeing a lot of Fox Sparrows, and Brown Creepers, both of which have been in short supply this winter.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Tasty snack for a Brown Creeper

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Catching up

Last Sunday (1/17), I went out to Central Park and caught up on a few birds I hadn't seen in Manhattan this year.

The best thing there were two Snow Geese, a very rare sight in Central Park, even as a flyover much less down on the water.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Snow Goose, Central Park
rare visitors

I have heard that they are still there.

Walking around the Reservoir, I saw the Ring-Necked Duck drake that has been wintering there.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck, Central Park
I think this is the first photo I've taken where you can see the ring around the neck

The Reservoir gets one or two Ring-Necked drakes every winter. I wonder if the same bird has been returning every year. He was hunting quite successfully, and I spent some time trying to get a good photo of him at the moment of the dive.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ring-Necked Duck diving, Central Park

It was a little beyond my skill, and it was quite windy and cold so I gave up after only ten minutes or so. . This is the best one I got.

Also new for the year at the Reservoir was a Pied-Billed Grebe. We generally have two or three hanging around, but I think only one this winter.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pied-Billed Grebe, Central Park

Heading toward the Ramble, I found the Orange-Crowned Warbler that was found during the Christmas Count. It looks like it's trying to overwinter here, which is pretty scary.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Orange-Crowned Warbler, Central Park
it's a living

In this photo, you can see it's probing at sapsucker scrapes on the viburnum (I think that's the plant, anyway). The Orange-Crowned has basically been following an overwintering Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker around, poaching insects from its wells and scrapes.

It is still behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though it has moved to the area right up against the East Drive between the Transverse and Greywacke Arch

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Central Park
the hawk gaze

In the Ramble itself, I found this juvenile Accipiter, which I think is a Sharp-Shinned Hawk.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Central Park
tail looks pretty square to me

On my way out, I was startled by a flash of white wings darting into a mixed flock of sparrows. It turned out to be this partially-leucistic House sparrow. I think a couple of people have remarked on this bird recently.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; House Sparrow, Central Park
white wings

It's interesting--the white doesn't look that extensive when the bird is at rest, but in flight it was really startling.

One thing I didn't see that day was the Great Horned Owl which was present from late October to early January, and then disappeared once all the leaves droppped from its favorite roosting tree. It's apparently back! I've seen several reports of it this past week, in the same now-bare tree near the feeder area in the Ramble. I guess it missed the attention.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Midtown Birding (2)

In November I started a new job, which moved me away from the pocket park I wrote about before. By the way, recent reports from there say that some Swamp Sparrows, a Towhee, at least one Catbird, and two Brown Thrashers are all still there.

My new location, around Park and 51st, is unfortunately not so interesting, but there have been some birds.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, 345 Park Avenue
office plaza bird

The first day, I spotted a Common Yellowthroat on the plaza outside the building. I saw that same bird around for several weeks, and other Yellowthroats in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew's Church across the street, and even hanging around a coffee cart near Lexington Avenue.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, St. Bartholomew's Church
St. Bart's visitor

Most of the interesting birds were in the tiny St. Bartholomew's yards. A good part of the reason is that they had a water trickle running in the southern part of the yard, in a reasonably protected spot. That combined with a couple of trees and some shrubs, is enough to attract some birds.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Junco, St. Bartholomew's Church
just passing through

A few migrants appeared in the churchyard. Besides the Yellowthroats, there were Juncos, Song Sparrows, a Hermit Thrush, and one morning even a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. There are also the usual city residents--pigeons, starlings, House Sparrows--and the winter-ubiquitous White Throated Sparrows.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Throated sparrow, St. Bartholomew's Church
in town for the winter

There was a Gray Catbird around, but I haven't seen it since the trickle was shut off in mid-December. That's also when the last of the Yellowthroats departed.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Gray Catbird, St. Bartholomew's Church
like many New Yorkers, street food keeps the Catbird going

Finally, there's a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker who has been working trees all up and down 51st and 52nd Streets (at least), and also the tree in the St. Batholomew's southern yard.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Sapsucker and street, St. Bartholomew's Church
street scene, St. Bartholomew's Chruch

Since he seems to be teh only Sapsucker in this part of town, he's got a large number of trees to work on, which he does quite diligently. Hopefully, that will be enough to keep him going all winter.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, St. Bartholomew's Church
diligent driller of holes

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Four lifers

Since my new job's location doesn't let me cross Central Park on my way to work, I expect to see a lot fewer species in Manhattan than in the last few years. So this year, I've decided to go around the City on some weekends looking for life birds. The other week it was Prospect Park and the Black-Headed Gull, and this Saturday it was Flushing Meadow Corona Park. There had been recent reports of four species I'd never seen there.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Snow Goose, Flushing Meadow Park
yes, even the Snow Goose was a life bird. Don't judge me.

After getting off the 7 train at Willet's Point--and I can't stop thinking of the stop as "Shea Stadium", I entered the old World's Fair grounds and set off looking for something called the "Garden of Meditation" where there was supposed to be a flock of Juncos with a couple of exotic sparrows mixed in.

On the way, I spotted a small concrete-ringed body of water with a lot of geese on it. Since the other two species I was looking for were geese, I diverted over there. I believe it's called the "Pool of Industry". I love the feature names from the World's Fair; they are so very Space Age.

Anyway, on the lawn next to the Pool I spotted a large white goose hanging with a big flock of Canadas. It proved to be a (very cooperative) Snow Goose. Lifer number one!

With the help of a friendly photographer who had arrived at the Pool, I scanned for the two Cackling Geese that had been reported. They're very small geese with the same pattern as Canada Geese. The small size should jump out at you. No luck. He said that he'd just come from Meadow Lake (across the highway) where the Cacklings had usually been, and they weren't there either. We went off in search of sparrows.

The Meditation Garden held no birds of any kind. The area in front of the New York State Pavilion (where the target Junco flock had also been seen) was almost as empty, except a large flock of Starlings came down nearby. After a while, the photographer packed it in--the light was crappy and it was threatening rain. I decided to walk around the New York State Pavilion.

For reference, the NYS Pavilion is the thing with the big sci-fi-looking towers featured in Men In Black. It's in poor repair, though some restoration is being done. On the path behind the Pavilion, I spotted Juncos. With them, a couple of Pine Warblers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Warbler, Flushing Meadow Park
extra attraction

The Juncos were spead out loosely between the path and a highway (there are highways running all around and through Flushing Meadow Park, thank you Robert Moses). I spotted a stripy-headed sparrow with them, but it proved to be just a White-Throated Sparrow. Then I spotted a very dull light-brown bird with a grey neck and a brown rump--the Clay Colored Sparrow. Lifer number two! He vanished quickly--Clay-Colored Sparrows are very good at vanishing--but then I spotted the boldly-patterned Lark Sparrow.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Lark Sparrow, Flushing Meadow Park

Lifer number three! He was at some distance, but shortly afterward there was a brief rain shower. The flock went up into the trees and I caught the Lark Sparrow posing. When it flew to a different tree, I noticed that it passed another brown sparrow.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Clay-Colored Sparrow, Flushing Meadow Park
cryptic sparrow

That is not really an identifiable view of a Clay-Colored Sparrow but it was the best photo I got of it.

Next I crossed over the highway to Meadow Lake in the southern part of the park. It was immediately apparent that the lake was mostly frozen over, and that there were no geese of any description on it. A smart man would have gone back. I decided to walk around the lake.

Considering that the terrain is quite flat, the walking was difficult. Very muddy in spots. Lots of Mallards and gulls on the lake shore, and some coots in the few open-water stretches, but not much else. A couple of Song Sparrows in the phragmites.

The south end of the lake seemed to recede as I walked on. Stubbornly I pushed on. At length I reached a playground and sat down at a picnic table to contemplate the bad life choices that had led me to this place.

Well, it seemed it was farther to go back then to continue around, so continue I did. I watched a rather dark Red-Tailed Hawk take off from a tree. after rounding the tip of the lake, I realized that the path ahead was fenced off. It would have been nice of the Parks Department to have signs up early on saying that the path around the lake wasn't passable.

Being tired and stubborn, I went on. I wound up walking along the highway off-ramp for a considerable distance, great fun. At length I completed the circuit and returned to the northern part of the park.

There I found birders in front of the NYS Pavilion, mostly from the Brooklyn Bird Club. The Junco flock was on the grass there, and they were tracking the special sparrows, which was not easy in the late-afternoon light.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Where's Waldo? (1)
where's Waldo?

But I did get looks at both the Clay-Colored and the Lark Sparrow again. Then I moved on, back to the Pool of Industry--for some reason I really want to put that in all-caps, but I'll resist--and another look for the Cackling Geese.

I have never seen so many geese in such a small area. They had all left the lawn. The Pool of Industry is an oval, maybe 120 feet long, and there were easily 500 Canada Geese in it, and the back end of it wasn't even full, just a few gulls there. So the geese were all crowded into, I don't know, a tenth of an acre? A few hundred square yards. It was Grand Central Station in there. I did not see any notably small geese.

The Brooklyn crew arrived. They didn't have any luck either. ("That one seems small" "Maybe? A little." [a minute later] "I can't find it in the crowd anymore." "That's not a good sign.")

Geese began to fly out in tens and twenties and thirties. That should make oddities easier to spot...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Where's Waldo? (2)
where's Waldo, part two. This was a bit later, with even fewer birds, so it's easy.

And then I saw them. "Hey, how about those? That group of four, the ones in the front look very small."

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cackling Geese and Canada Geese, Flushing Meadow Park
Boom! There it is.

And so they were. Lifer number four!

I watched the for a while--they hung out, mostly pretty close together. I think they found the larger Canadas a bit intimidating.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cackling Geese and Canada Goose, Flushing Meadow Park
intimidating goose

All in all, six and a half hours in Flushing Meadow, six miles walked, four life birds. A good day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year birding, and the last of the Painted Bunting

As is my habit, I spent the first couple of days of the New Year birding Central Park and Randall's Island. Mostly I was trying to clean up as many usual species as possible--eBird's "Year Needs" list can get pretty unwieldy in January if I don't.

Sunday I went out to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to look for the Black-Headed Gull I had dipped on in December. But of course I had to look in on the Painted Bunting before circling the Lake to scan the gulls.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Painted Bunting, Prospect Park

He was near the northeast wall of the Lefrak Center, very near where he was in early December when I visited last. Having paid my regards, I went off to the Lake. The gulls mostly like the west end of the Lake, and I was starting on the east end, but it wasn't a dull walk.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruddy Duck, Prospect Park

In Central Park, you mostly see waterbirds like this Ruddy Duck from a greater distance or from above (when you circle the Reservoir, you're always looking down on the water) or most often both. Prospect Park Lake is nice because you can see them come in close to share and you're right down on the ground for a good low view.

Anyway, eventually I came upon a photographer at the west edge of the Lake who was packing up, and he pointed out the Black-Headed Gull to me. I watched it for a while, then it took off suddenly.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-Headed Gull, Prospect Park

It flew past me, and I had the impression it hadn't gone too far, so I continued along the shore until I found a family feeding the ducks. And the swans, and the gulls. That explained the sudden take-off.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-Headed and Ring-Billed Gulls, Prospect Park

I was able to pass on the favor the photographer had done me to a couple of passing birders, so I wasn't the only one to get the Black-Headed Gull as a life bird that day.

On my way out of the park, I passed the Lefrak Center again. I saw the Painted Bunting get flushed by some idiot walking through the shrubbery--not a birder of photographer as far as I could see.

Anyway, the bird didn't go far, and actually spent some time in a more open area in better light, and so I got the nice pictures you see here. Eventually the Bunting returned to the denser shrubs along the wall.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Painted Bunting, Prospect Park

That appears to have been the last day the Painted Bunting was seen. There were only a couple of eBird reports from Prospect Park on Monday, and they don't have it, and there were several on Tuesday again with no result.

If the bird was gone on Monday, that's actually fairly hopeful. Monday night wasn't too bad, so it might mean that he felt the cold coming in that evening and finally decided to fly south. If he was around Monday and people just missed him, that could be bad; most likely that would be because he was hunkered down against the cold and wind we had Monday--a bird actively feeding before flying out would have been easier to spot. Monday night was bitter, down into the single digits (F), possibly colder than any member of that species had ever experienced. That might have killed him. Either way, we'll almost certainly never know.