Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The WETA Clan

The morning of the day before Thanksgiving, someone walking through City Hall Park heard an odd birdcall, and looked around to find a Western Tanager up in the trees. The Western Tanager (referred to in a lot of tweets and other online reports by its bird banding code, WETA) is not normally found east of Colorado; the last time one was seen in Manhattan was in the spring of 2008.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Western Tanager, City Hall Park
Western Tanager (WETA), looking down...

Word got out by early Wednesday afternoon, and, well, you know what happened next.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Birderazzi, City Hall Park
...at the WETA Clan birders looking up

OK, so, the crowd was smaller when I was looking for it after work on Wednesday. I failed, as did everyone else that afternoon as far as I know. On Thanksgiving Day itself, however, a steady stream of birders succeeded. I don't know how their families felt about it, but after all, the day is all about the bird.

Friday morning, I emerged from the subway at 8:10 in the morning and immediately spotted a fellow with binoculars outside the park. He put me on the bird and...well, about the easiest twitch I ever had.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Western Tanager, City Hall Park
too busy to pose!

More birders showed up shortly after. The Tanager was quite active and occasionally calling, but the light was horrid and the bird very hard to photograph.

Saturday, Elena came downtown with me, and we had views in somewhat better light. Still hard to get a good photo, though. The crowd was even larger than before.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Western Tanager, City Hall Park
what are they doing down there?

The Tanager is apparently still there today (Tuesday 11/29), so if you're among the dwindling number of New York City birders who hasn't seen it yet, there's still hope. It likes the tall trees in the northeast part of the park, along the path between the back of City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Yellow-Breasted Chat, Millennium Park
Chat in a roundabout...

The WETA isn't the only good bird in the park. A second Yellow-Breasted Chat has been in the for several weeks, mostly in the traffic circle just to the south (which has a sign that says "Millennium Park", which is a good joke). Sometimes it ventures closer to City Hall.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Yellow-Breasted Chat, City Hall Park
I get around

Also a few other warblers are lingering: an Ovenbird is on that northern path just a bit west of the WETA area, and quite confiding.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Ovenbird,  City Hall Park
Steppin' out

At least two Black-Throated Blue Warblers are also present. Mostly they stay way up in the same trees as the Western Tanager, but the male came down for a drink at a little birdbath nearby.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Black-Throated Blue Warbler, City Hall Park
Black-Throated Blue at the birdbath

Usually, smaller birds are very wary of larger ones at a birdbath, even if they aren't actively chased away but this little guy wasn't taking any crap from the sparrows.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Black-Throated Blue Warbler, City Hall Park
you are not the boss of me

There's also a couple of Common Yellowthroats around, one of which likes to assert it's presence.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Common Yellowthroat, City Hall Park
Look at me! I'm also a pretty pretty bird!

The trees also hold more common birds including several Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (the WETA and the Black-Throated Blues are taking advantage of the wells the Sapsuckers drill in the trees, which attract insects), Hermit Thrushes, and American Kestrels, all of which are nice to see. The lawns host the normal wintering sparrows--the suddenly-ubiquitous White-Throated Sparrows, Juncos, Song Sparrows, and Fox Sparrows.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Fox Sparrow,  City Hall Park
winter Fox

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Chat chat

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Breasted Chat, Trinity Church
Very bird, such urban

We've had a lot of Yellow-Breasted Chats in Manhattan this Fall. By "a lot", I mean three or four--they're never an abundant bird here.

There was one in Central Park at the end of October, that I mentioned in an earlier post, and then two appeared in lower Manhattan--one in a traffic roundabout just south of City Hall, and one in the yard of Trinity Church. I wasn't able to get downtown to look for either until last Friday.

Trinity Church is a rather unlikely birding spot. The churchyard is fairly small, there's not much ground cover, and there isn't a water source. Nevertheless, birds show up there--75 total species at last count--, which we know mostly through the diligent efforts of Ben Cacace.

Last Fall, a pair of Connecticut Warblers showed up there. Like the Chat this year, these normally reclusive birds put on quite a show for a throng of birders. Not by choice, certainly; as I said, not much ground cover.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Winter Wren, Trinity Church
a real cutie

The church was doing some work on the churchyard last year, which is mostly done (though the Chat did like hiding in the raining construction material in the northwest corner of the yard).

They've put up a lot of low wire fencing to separate the paths from the grave plots, which is good even for the birders. Last year there was a little problem with one or two photographers stalking the Connecticut around the graves, lumbering like Frankenstein's monster. Some people just don't know what they're doing. You've got a big long lens, you don't need to try to get within ten feet of the poor bird. Sheesh.

Anyway. No such problems this year, and the Chat was relatively little disturbed by the assembled bird paparazzi (there were a dozen or so when I was there, even though the Chat had been there over two weeks by that point).

There were a few other birds around as well--a very cooperative Winter Wren, and two or three Hermit Thrushes.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hermit Thrush, Trinity Church
memento birdie

As of today (11/23), the Chat is still there--three weeks and counting.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Breasted Chat, Trinity Church
a long engagement

Monday, November 14, 2016

Avoidance tactics

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Randall's Island
here's looking at you, kid

So I guess I'll just go on blogging about birds as if nothing's happened.

Speaking of avoidance mechanisms, I made my usual trek up to Randall's Island on the day of the NY Marathon. I live east of First Avenue, so if I don't get out of the area before 8:30am on Marathon Sunday, I'm pretty much stuck there until late afternoon unless I walk a couple of miles each way to get in and out of the area.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Song Sparrow, Randall's Island
Song Sparrow watches out

The north end of the island was pretty quiet. The first few Brants have arrived for the winter, and there were a lot of Song Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows. The Song Sparrows were pretty cooperatve.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Savannah Sparrow, Randall's Island
landscape with Savannah Sparrow

I followed a group of Savannah Sparrows north along the eastern shore. They were a bit less approachable than the Songs.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Savannah Sparrow, Randall's Island
inclined to fly

I did get a couple of decent photos of them anyway. The usual gulls were around. Mostly Ring-Billeds and mostly distant, but there was a Herring Gull on the rocks on the shore.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Herring Gull, Randall's Island
curious Herring Gull

There were a few Laughing Gulls in their winter plumage. I don't recall seeing many in the county so late in the year before, though eBird didn't blink at them. I didn't succeed in turning any of them into more unusual species.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Laughing Gulls, Randall's Island
who's laughing now?

The little freshwater wetlands across Central Road from Icahn Stadium was also quiet. There were a couple of late migrants: a Black-Throated Blue Warbler skulking around the underbrush, and a Monarch Butterfly in the flower garden just south of the marsh.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Monarch Butterfly, Randall's Island
Monarch of all et cetera

It looks like they're putting in another water feature in the wetlands area, and also they seem to have completed a bike/pedestrian path just east of the marsh, right outside the wastewater treatment plant. I look forward to seeing what's up back there on a later visit.

Not much was doing at the Little Hell Gate saltmarsh: a few Mallards and one Black Duck, a few sparrows, and along the southern path, several Golden-Crowned Kinglets very active in a tree.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Randall's Island
ready for takeoff

In the next tree sat a single tired-looking Ruby Crowned Kinglet.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Randall's Island
contemplative Kinglet

Along the River's Edge Garden )between Little Hell Gate and the Ward's Island pedestrian bridge) there were a few more Savannah Sparrows, and one Black Capped Chickadee who scolded me vigorously while feeding.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Black-Capped Chickadee, Randall's Island
hungry but talkative

The Marathon was still going when I got back to First Avenue. Up in that area, the crowd was much thinner than in my neighborhood, but there were some spectators.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; 2016 New York City Marathon, about 103rd Street
watching the race

Friday, November 4, 2016

Vermont/New York

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Covered Bridge, Charlotte VT
Don't strain your eyes, there's no bird in this photo (Covered Bridge, Charlotte VT)

Elena and I went to Vermont last weekend to visit some dear old friends who live right by the shore of Lake Champlain. We had a great time! It wasn't great birding weather, but we did get some in.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Horned Grebes, Lake Champlain
Grebes a crowd

There were a lot of Horned Grebes right offshore--just a little too far to get really good photos in the overcast light. I hadn't realized that Grebes were so social--they were typically in groups of three to five birds, with some groups up to eight.

Raptors were romping along the shore, too--Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier, Rough-Legged Hawk (lifer!). There were Ravens around as well, who sometimes chased the hawks or were chased by them.

I also spent a couple of hours at the Charlotte Park and Wildlife Refuge, which is just beautiful and I recommend it to anyone who goes to that part of the state. I had some noce close views of Hairy Woodpeckers, and watched a Cooper's Hawk chasing a flock of Robins.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Turkey Vulture, Charlotte VT
"Here's the world-famous vulture sitting in a tree"

On our way to the airport Sunday morning, we saw this Turkey Vulture just hanging out in a tree by the road. Some might think that's a bad omen, but not me.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blackpoll Warbler, Central Park

We actually got home early enough that I went over to Central Park in the afternoon to look for the Yellow-Breasted Char that's been at Sparrow Rock (near Tanner's Spring) for a week or so. I had tried several times to see it in the mornings before work and failed, and Sunday continued the streak. I've dipped several times in a year on a species of bird pretty often, but this is the first time I've dipped on the same individual bird five times. But I was consoled by a very cooperative Blackpoll Warbler.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blackpoll Warbler, Central Park
Blackpoll and berry

I did eventually catch up with the Chat this week--for about ten seconds, and couldn't get a photo in focus. Oh well. Bird's still there as of Friday afternoon, so I may have more chances to miss it again.