Friday, December 8, 2017

November rarities

In November the rare birds come. Hatch-year birds who've never migrated before, birds blown by storms, birds whose sense of direction has gone off--all sorts of birds can show up anywhere.

There was a Corn Crake on Long Island. I missed that--no transport--and the poor bird got hit by a car a couple of days after its discovery. That's a ridiculously rare vagrant from Europe, only a few North American records in the last century. Excellent young birder Ryan Zucker wrote a very nice blog post about the Crake twitch.

Closer to home, we had a different skulky bird of the reeds up in the Loch section of Central Park, a Virginia Rail . This wasn't off-course so much, but unusually easy to see, foraging in the leaves just off a popular path.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park

I got to see an interesting bit of behavior--a Blue Jay who had been hanging around suddenly flew up to the top of a small tree and started alarming, and the rail ran for cover, closing the 15 feet or so to a large log in about a second and crouching underneath until the danger had passed, or at least until the Jay quieted down.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park
in this and the next picture, look at the feet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park
seriously, aren't they amazing?

The Rail might have been released in the park by the Wild Bird Find after a rehab stint.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park
This is just a ridiculously close look at a Rail. That never happens.

Down in the Ramble, an apparent Hammond's Flycatcher has been around for almost two weeks now. Hammond's is a western Empidonax flycatcher, and empids are notoriously hard to identify, but this bird's small bill, teardrop eyering, long tail, and long "primary projection" (which makes the wings look sword-shaped) are pretty strong evidence, and people have heard it call (which is usually the best way to identify Empidonaxes), so everyone seems happy with the ID.

I had an unsatisfactory look at it when it first showed up, and then for some days the bird was seen before and after I left the park, but then first I had a decent look late one afternoon, and then a couple of days later I came upon a couple of people looking at it at perched over a small stream the Gill)...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hammond's Flycatcher, Central Park

..and then it flew right in and showed off on a fence six feet from me. I've never had such a good look at any empid before.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hammond's Flycatcher, Central Park

As of today (Friday 12/8), the bird is apparently still present. It goes all over the Ramble, so it might take some searching unless you see a crowd of people staring into the trees.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hammond's Flycatcher, Central Park

That same day I saw two other nice birds. While entering the park I stopped to watch a biggish flock of Common Grackles on Cedar Hill, maybe 150 or 200 birds. They weren't two nervous and I was able to walk pretty close as the foraged and fussed, and then I spotted a slightly larger and browner bird in with them.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Boat-Tailed Grackle, Central Park

A Boat-Tailed Grackle! Very unusual for Manhattan, though there's a breeding colony at Jamaica Bay in the summer. I think this is the same bird that was spotted by Anders Peltomaa a week or so before. It's been seen almost daily since; opinions are divided as to whether it's a female or a hatch-year male.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Boat-Tailed Grackle, Central Park
hey there, long legs

It was interesting to watch this bird interact with the Common Grackles. Aside from being a bit bigger, it had much longer legs, and when it felt crowded, it would rise up on them and kind of lean on the neighbors a little until they backed off.

After seeing the Grackle and then the nice view of the Hammond's, I wandered around the Ramble for a while, and came upon a Pine Siskin in a holly tree.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Siskin, Central Park
Pine Siskin (OK, next to the Holly)

Pine Siskins are a decently unusual bird here, although some winters we see a number of them as they wander the region looking for good crops of pine cones to eat. This was the first I'd seen this year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Winter Is Coming

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Dark-Eyed Junco, Central Park

The days grow short, and it's getting cold. Ducks are coming in to stay at the Reservoir, and now the Juncos are here, so Fall migration is basically over.

I hadn't been seeing too many Juncos this Fall, but a couple of days ago I found a flock of about 60 on a path behind Tupelo Meadow in Central Park, and more scattered south of there in the Ramble. White-Throated Sparrows are still in relatively short supply.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Downy Woodpecker digging a roost hole

Meanwhile, on Cedar Hill, I've been watching a female Downy Woodpecker excavating a roost hole. When they feel winter coming on, many woodpeckers dig holes in trees to roost in at night, which is what's happening here in this video clip. (By the way, if anyone can recommend simple video-editing tools for Windows, I'd like to hear about them. Doesn't have to be free, but does have to be really easy. Mostly I'd be looking for something to do stabilization better than the YouTube tool.)

Woodpeckers don't reuse their nest holes for winter roosting, which makes perfect sense when you think about what a nest cavity must look and smell like by the time the young have fledged.

She appears to have finished her roost hole now. Hopefully she can defend it from Starlings and House Sparrows.

Happy Thanksgiving! You stay warm, too.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

More street birding

I work across the street from St Bartholomew's Church, which is in midtown Manhattan on Park Avenue. It has a tiny garden which attracts a number of migrants (and which I've written about once before). Recently I saw a couple of new species in the park--rather late in the afternoon both times, so I didn't get any usable photos; I;m going to use that as an excuse to post some old ones.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Timberdoodle, International Paper Plaza

I saw a dark shape walking by the wall of the church. It was too large for an Ovenbird (which I've seen there once or twice this Fall), but I couldn't imagine a pigeon skulking in the shrubs like that. I went around to the church steps, where you can look down into the garden, and found a Woodcock sitting under an evergreen shrub.

It was an interesting vantage point. The bird was facing straight away from me--I was behind and above it, but it's eyes are so placed that it was staring right up at me. It's a startling thing to see up close. They really do have eyes in the back of their head.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Gray Catbird, International Paper Plaza

There were a pair of Gray Catbirds in the garden for a while. Last year, one catbird overwintered. However a couple of weeks back, I spotted a Brown Thrasher in the garden at dusk, and both it and the catbirds seemed agitated--the Thrasher was flitting in and out of the shrubs, and the catbirds were sitting in the tree above them and calling loudly. The next day, they had all gone. It's a mystery.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Brown Thrasher, International Paper Plaza

Monday, October 23, 2017


Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American White Pelican, Jamaica Bay
large flying things

I was at Jamaica Bay a few weeks ago looking for the American Avocet that spent a long time at the East Pond. I didn't find it that day, but near sunset, I took a last look from the overlook near Big John's Pond. There was nothing exciting on the water, but when I looked overhead, I saw a huge white bird flying south.

It was already past me when I spotted it, but I got my binoculars up and say it was an American White Pelican. I thought I wouldn't be able to get a decent photo, but luckily it turned at the south end of the pond and flew back toward the north, and I got some good flight shots of it.

The American White Pelican is mostly a western bird, though some winter in Florida. We get occasional vagrants; there was even a pair that overwintered at Jamaica Bay in 2015-16. It's probably the best bird I've seen that I didn't know was there beforehand.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American White Pelican, Jamaica Bay

I'm glad I went for the bins first, by the way. I don't think I would have gotten an identifiable photo if I had grabbed then camera first. The view in the binoculars was good enough that even if the Pelican had kept on going, I would have had an ID. People who say "pics or it didn't happen" can bite me--it just doesn't work that way, not always.

The Pelican was still around the next morning, and several people got to see it. Then it was gone. I finally saw the Avocet a couple of weeks later--a terrible view through the scope, but at least I saw it. (For that matter, it was way out of range for my camera, and I can't seem to get the hang of digiscoping, so I don't have proof that I saw it; see above.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Kingbird vs Hawk

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Kingbird mobbing Red-Tailed Hawk, Central Park

Earlier in the summer, soon after the young Red-Tailed Hawks from Pale Male's brood had fledged, I spotted one of them in a tree along the 79th Street Transverse. It called occasionally, a creaky version of an adult hawk's scream. As I drew nearer, I realized that the young hawk was being mobbed by a single Eastern Kingbird, who I knew was nesting nearby.

This is the only time I've seen the red crown on a Kingbird. It's usually hidden, but this was one angry bird.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Kingbird mobbing Red-Tailed Hawk, Central Park

The Kingbird made pass after pass at the hawk, sometimes going away for a few minutes then returning again. On every close approach, teh hawk would screech.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Kingbird mobbing Red-Tailed Hawk, Central Park

The Kingbird was actually striking the hawk occasionally, though I didn't manage the catch that in camera.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Kingbird mobbing Red-Tailed Hawk, Central Park

The hawk eventually decided he'd has enough, and flew off. The Kingbird's young fledged a couple of weeks later, and you'd see the parents feeding them around Turtle Pond.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Nesting season (part 2)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Piping Plover, Fort Tilden, Queens

A well-known location for nesting Piping Plovers is at the tip of Breezy Point, which is as far west on the Rockaways as you can go. It's a pain in the neck to get to--I don't drive and even if I did, Breezy Point is a private community with no parking for non-residents. To get there, you have to go to Fort Tiden and then hike along the beach for a couple or three miles, except it's not clear that you can do that because the community claims beach is also residents-only (and how that can be legal is beyond me). The books an websites about birding the area suggest wither walking the beach anyway, or taking an ATV path from the fisherman's parking lot. Anyway, it's a hassle, but Piping Plovers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Oystercatcher, Fort Tilden, Queens

It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. As soon as I reached the beach at Fort Tilden, I started seeing American Oystercatchers. They nest in the dunes there, and sometimes right on the beach, and there's ropes indicating where you shouldn't go.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Oystercatchers, Fort Tilden, Queens

As I started walking west, I spotted some juveniles, and also some pairs who appeared to be doing courtship--making scrapes on the sand, moving side by side in sync, and so on.

As I was photographing the Oystercatchers, I became aware that the section of beach I was passing seemed to be clothing-optional. You might think that would be important enough to mention in the websites about birding the area (or for that matter the books about NY area birding), but you would be wrong.

After a spirited discussion with a couple of beachgoers about the uses and virtues of telephoto lenses, I continued west, but I hadn't gone fifty yards before I spotted something very small moving in the beach grass.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Piping Plover, Fort Tilden, Queens

Oooh! Piping Plovers! I had't expected them at all in this area. The dunes here weren't even roped off; one or two people were sitting in the dunes. I actually saw the chicks first:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Piping Plover, Fort Tilden, Queens

There were about four chicks, I think, and two adults nearby.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Piping Plover, Fort Tilden, Queens

Having seen the Piping Plovers I didn't feel a need to go all the way to the Breeze Point tip. I went as far as the fisherman's parking lot (permit only) and the "Surf Club". The club certainly does their best to make it look uninviting to walk past it own the beach, and I didn't see anything looking like a path leading west from the parking lot. I did walk from the lot up to Rockaway Point Boulevard. Lots of songbirds singing, especially Towhees and Song Sparrows, and some Red-Winged Blackbirds who did their best to convince me I should be elsewhere. I did find them a little more alarming than the sunbathers.

On the way back up the beach, I spotted more Piping Plover adults in the roped-off areas.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Piping Plover, Fort Tilden, Queens

And more OysterCatchers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Oystercatcher, Fort Tilden, Queens

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Oystercatcher, Fort Tilden, Queens

It was a nice visit. Highly recommended.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Piping Plover, Fort Tilden, Queens

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Nesting season (part 1)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on nest, Governor's Island
The Heron Is In

It's nesting season! Out on Governors Island, the Yellow-Crowned Night Herons have returned. The nest they used last year was destroyed somehow during the winter, so they relocated to near the Harbor School. These photos were taken near the end of June I wonder if they've got hatchlings yet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron on nest, Governor's Island
time for a stretch and a scratch

The Common Terns seemed to be doing well; their nest colony isn't in plain view at their new location (their half of Yankee Pier collapsed during the winter and they're now on Tango Pier, which is entirely closed to people) but I could see one fledgling on the pier. Too far for a decent photo, though.

Some birds have fledged their young already (at least their first round, many will renest). Here's a baby Cardinal from Central Park:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cardinal fledgling, Central Park
the dark beak is a sign of youth in a Cardinal

and a recently fledged Blue Jay:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blue Jay fledgling, Central Park

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blue Jay fledgling, Central Park
yelling for food

and the Common Grackles have had a good year so far:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Grackle fledgling, Central Park
time to feed the baby

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Grackle fledgling, Central Park
kids are so demanding

More soon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

One thing about birding is, you never know what's going to turn up.

Saturday I went out to Governor's Island. I wanted to look for this year's Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest, which I had a heck of a time finding, and check on how the Common Tern colony was doing, and see what else might be around.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

I found a nest up a tree sort of in the area the Heron was supposed to be, and watched it for a half-hour or so. It turned out to be the wrong nest. Oh well. Since I was close to the west edge of the island, I took a break to see what might be on the water. I spotted some terns and Laughing Gulls down the shore and decided to stroll over there and try to get some photos of the birds fishing. I was interrupted by a couple who wanted me to take their picture.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

It pays to be polite. It was only after I had finished that that I spotted an odd black duck swimming south maybe twenty yards out. I might have missed it if I had gone trotting off towards the gulls. It turned out to be a Scoter, which is unusual in this area in June--they should all be up around Hudson's Bay--and almost unheard of in New York County at any time. Almost all of the eBird sightings are from right after Hurricane Sandy--water birds often get blown great distances in storm systems.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Surf Scoter, Governor's Island

This bird is a Surf Scoter, I believe--the bill is quite distinctive, though Surf Scoter males usually have big white patches on the forehead and nape of the neck (fishermen call them "skunk coots"). However, I think young males can show this all-dark plumage, and that black spot at the base of the bill really doesn't occur in other Scoters. This appears to be the first sighting of a Surf Scoter at Governor's Island. It's also probably the coolest bird I've ever found myself.

I eventually found the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron nest. I'll talk about that some other time, though.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Looking back at Spring (part 2)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Worm-Eating Warbler, Central Park

Another bird I got a better-than-usual look at this Spring was Worm-Eating Warbler. Usually they're hard to find in Central Park in the Spring, but this year there were several good sightings, mostly along the south short of Turtle Pond.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Worm-Eating Warbler, Central Park

Worm-Eating Warblers are more frequent in the park in Fall, when they tend to creep through the dead leaves on the ground in shady spots. They are pretty cryptic in that setting. These Spring migrants, though, liked the catkins in the oaks, pretty high off the ground but sometimes coming down almost to eye level. The oaks at Turtle Pond are set well back from the fenced path, but it was still a pretty good view.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Worm-Eating Warbler, Central Park

because of the distance and light, these photos didn't come out quite as well as I had hoped, but it was still quite a nice view of the bird.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Looking back at Spring (part 1)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

So how have you all been? Had a good Spring migration? Mine was good, but I didn't have my act together to post about it. Too many photos, too little time. I really need to come up with a better workflow. And now Summer is beginning, and the migration has passed, and it'll be another year before I get to do it again.

Anyway, it was a pretty good migration season. There were a lot of birds, although some of the "normal rarities" didn't show up much--I don't think anyone had a Prothonotary or Cerulean Warbler, for example, not in Central Park, maybe not anywhere in Manhattan.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

I never ran into a real "magic tree", but I did have a nice long encounter with a Bay-Breasted Warbler, right where the Belvedere Caste plaza ends and the steps down to the Ramble start.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

He foraged in one tree for a good half-hour, frequently at eye-level, and in really good light. I was amazed how his cap glowed in the sunlight.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bay-Breasted Warbler, Central Park

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Out-of-Towners

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
Cattle Egret on the prowl

It's migration season! And of course New York City is getting pretty much every type of warbler found in the northeast, just like every Spring. Enjoy them while you can!

But we're also seeing some very unusual visitors. At the top of this post, we have a Cattle Egret--I think the first every seen in Manhattan--who has been hanging around at the Penn South co-op, around 28th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue in Manhattan.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
Rare bird and common passers-by

Cattle Egrets are originally an African bird, showed up in South America in the 1950s, and have been steadily extending their range over the last few decades. They're quite common now in the southern US--basically a roadside bird in Florida, for example.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
on the move

However, it's rare up north. I believe one shows up at Jamaica Bay or Jones Beach once in a while, but that's all. It's in good breeding plumage--the off-white crown and back feathers--but I don't think it's going to find a mate up here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cattle Egret, Penn South, Manhattan
Not much of an environment--but enough

The area you see the Cattle Egret in here is (so I understand) having some construction work done on it, but the bird is still around a little farther south, still on the grounds of Penn South. Worth a visit if you're in Manhattan. Keep an eye out for other birds when you're there--there were some warblers about when I visited.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wild Turkey, Central Park
Wild Turkey, Central Park

A Wild Turkey showed up in the North Woods of Central Park a couple of weeks ago. Turkeys are not unknown in the City. I'm told there are some in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, and even in Manhattan there are reports occasionally from Inwood Hill. And of course there was Zelda the Battery Park turkey, killed by a car a couple of years back after a long life there. Still, they're pretty rare here.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wild Turkey, Central Park
official vehicle, unofficial bird

I was emerging from the Ramble after an afternoon's birding, and I saw David Barrett looking at something at the edge of the Ramble Maintenance parking area. Surprise! The North Woods turkey had been one the move. We watched the bird scratching through leaves and pecking at the grass for a while, until some idiot chased it across the lawn and it flew up a tree.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wild Turkey, Central Park
I think I'll just stay up here. To heck with you people.

The turkey continued moving south through the park the next day, and wound up at the lawns around Seventh Avenue and 59th Street. I think it's still there--it seems to be smart enough to avoid traffic and dogs.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Least Bittern, Central Park
Least but not last

On Sunday, a Least Bittern was spotted perched high up in a tree over the Gill in the Ramble in Central Park. This small egret is very unusual in this area. I asked long-time bird photographer Peter Post if there had ever been one in Central Park before. He said he had seen one--sixty years ago!

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Least Bittern, Central Park
Least Bittern, lurking

There appears to have been one since then, seen by legendary bird guide Starr Sapphire in 1989. But anyway, wow.

Up a tree, by the way, is not where you'd expect to find such a bird. It would like t be down in the tall reeds at the edge of a pond or stream with some tasty fish in it. Alas, reeds are in short supply in Central Park these days. I suspect the bird was waiting for dusk--if all the large mammals would just go away, it would chance a fishing expedition at Azalea Pond.

Anyway, you never know what might turn up in Manhattan.