Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cliff Swallows at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx NY

Cliff Swallow at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx NY.
When I read the list serve posts about Cliff Swallows at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, I was intrigued. In 2015, birder Matthieu Benoit reported 12 Cliff Swallows while kayaking in Pelham Bay on June 7th. Jack Rothman, a Bronx resident and birder followed up on that report with a well documented photograph of a Cliff Swallow, feeding its young at a nest site in Pelham Bay. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see any of those Cliff Swallows then so I was interested in trying for the ones at Van Cortlandt Park.

Cliff Swallow at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx NY.
On Monday, I made a rather late start and got to Van Cortlandt Park by 10:20 a.m., I quickly sorted out the location and shortly picked up my first Cliff Swallow hurtling along the play ground picking off insects. I would spend the next few hours watching them feed and working out, just how many there were. I felt comfortable that there were three Petrochelidon prryhonota present based on field observation and photos.

Cliff Swallow at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx NY.
The presence of Cliff Swallows at Van Cortlandt Park should not be taken lightly. They are known to have colonies further north but in recent years keen birders have been recording nesting sites in Queens and in the Bronx. These birds prefer open areas for foraging, with open water and a source of mud for nest building (Bull 1964). The habitat as you could see is of the utmost importance. Something, that is lost on those who are supposed to be guardians of the last remnants of the little green spaces we have left in our city.  As I read the list serve posts and subsequent eBird posts of those who tried and saw them, I could not help but feel a bit irritated that I never heard from many of these same folks when word broke that there is a plan afoot to pave the Putnam Trail. A 1.25 - mile long nature trail that runs along the abandoned Putnam Railway, not far from the site that is now hosting Cliff Swallows. That means, tree removal and asphalt. Disturbance, is never good for wildlife but the jury is out on how much negative impact, this project will have on our local breeders. In the meantime, lets enjoy those birds and wildlife while we can. I did just that, while thinking how wonderful it would have been to show them to the late Alex Pirko a VCP regular. Who knows, maybe he saw them there before.


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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In Memory of Alex Pirko

When I received the news from Minty of Alex Pirko, passing away I was very saddened. Alex, lived alone and as far as I know, no family nearby. He was found dead in his apartment by a neighbor who had not seen him for awhile.While Alex was neither a blood relative nor someone close to me, he was someone from my birding family. A guy I met while leading walks at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx NY. A quiet, soft spoken gentleman, Alex was one of the first attendee to go out with me when I began leading walks at VCP. He loved the park and birds and I loved that he enjoyed both. During the time I led the walks, he never missed a Saturday except when it snowed really bad or his body failed him. He showed me what he knew about the park and in return I got him new birds and was rewarded with his joy at new lifers (birds seen for the first time) that I found for him.

Alex far right with his smile
Over the time that I led the VCP walks, I saw Alex regressing, losing some of his sight  as well as mobility. As a result, he slowed down and even expressed to me that he did not want to slow down the group, such was his concern for others. Realizing that, I paced the walks so that he was never left behind or felt he was a burden. Unfortunately, I stopped leading the VCP walks due to differences I had with the VCP Admin and NYC Audubon on plans to pave the Putnam Trail. Alex, then had expressed his disappointment and threatened to stop going to the walks. I was touched by his loyalty but encouraged him to keep on attending the walks and to ignore the politics.

Alex (L) with the 2011 VCP Birdathon winners.
We kept in touch, along with other regulars from the walk and I helped him a few times with bird identification. As time went on our communication became infrequent though, I did ask others about his well being. I found out that he would be seen sometimes in the park but not with the group. Despite his health issues, Alex came out in 2013 to support a video that was made by Will Sanchez who was trying to bring the Putnam Trail issue to the screen. The sincerity of Alex's love for the birds came through with this quote - "And sometimes there's something out of the ordinary that pops up that is amazing, and people come from all over to see it". - Alex Pirko, 2013. The footage with his statement can be seen here.

I fondly remember the few memories with him like the VCP Birdathon which our team won in 2011, the time I got him on a Swamp Sparrow and watching him break out in that smile of his. Having him tell me about his Yellow-headed Blackbird that he found in VCP--the record, is still up on the NYSARC (New York State Avian Record Committee) website.  I wished I had done more for Alex, he was a gentle soul that could have used more companionship and friendship. These days, so much emphasis is put on young birders with very little attention to the older birders. We should not forget the folks like Alex, they need our love and attention too. R.I.P. dear Alex, may the after life be filled with the songs of the birds you loved so much.

Alex (center)  with birders on the Putnam Trail


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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Doing it for the birds - Audubon NY Birdathon 2016...

On May 12th, I joined a team of Audubon NY staffers and volunteers in the annual Audubon New York Birdathon. The Birdathon is a fundraiser and citizen science effort that increases awareness of Audubon’s mission and raises valuable funds for leading conservation work throughout New York. There were two ways one could have participated: either by pledging to support a team or by joining it. Participants had the option of joining for all or part of the day’s birding activities and anyone regardless of their level of birding skill level could participate.

Some of the team members.
I decided to join the Long Island Team consisting of: Amanda Pachomski, Bill Keasler (guest), Diana Ngai, Julie Nelsen, Kathryn Burke (she was out at Orient), Kathryn D'Amico, Kayleigh Mahoney, Seren Bagcilar and Sharon Hirschhorn. It was a good group with a mixed skill level. I have participated in several Birdathons and birding competitions; this one was not as intense which was just fine with me. The team was very good at helping each other get on birds and slowly but surely our number of birds began to build. Our sites included, Caumsett State Park, Orient Beach State Park, Jones Beach Coast Guard Station, Tobay Beach, Patchogue NY, Big Egg Marsh Queens, Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, Forest Park Queens, Nassau County, Lefferts Blvd Queens (my Monk Parakeets nest stakeout) and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I am sure I might have missed a few locations but you get the idea of how much ground was covered.

Team members looking for Piping Plovers at Jones Beach.
In the end we totaled 145 species seen and as of May 16th, our team, who I will christen "The Long Island Turnstones" were leading all other teams that participated. Donations to support our team could be made to : https://give.audubon.org/Giving/Page/192/1/192 look for Amanda Pachomski in the drop down list from the "choose your birder" field. Any amount would be greatly appreciated and put to good use.  I am looking forward to next year where we will try even harder!

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Banded Sanderling at Breezy Point in Queens NY

My first Banded Sanderling of 2016, turned out to be a bird that was banded in Delaware. See more information on the certificate below.

This bird was documented at Breezy Point in Queens and the flag data was submitted to the Bird Banding Lab. The data will be added to the bird's history, aiding researchers in mapping its travels.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Birding The Adirondacks NY

It has been a few years birding up north in the Adirondacks so when the idea began floating around leading to a discussion with my friend Joe Giunta, I was all psyched to do a trip with him. My first trip to the Adirondack was with Joe Giunta in 2010 so it was only fitting that I was returning after a few years of not enjoying any northern birding. Our trip did not get off to such a great start, dipping on a state bird (more on that in another post) which we worked into our trip. Nevertheless, we kept up our spirits and by 3:00 p.m. began our first bit of northern birding in Keene Valley. We thought we might have lucked out with one of our target birds, when a flock of Waxwings popped into view but after pulling over and carefully studying them we were satisfied they were all Cedar Waxwings. Nice to see but they were not the Bohemian Waxwings we wanted. We decided to check in to our hotel and then to hit Bigelow Bog before the light faded. After checking in, we drove to our parking spot near our rooms and heard Pine Siskins. We scanned the nearby Cedars and picked up a mixed flock of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches and American Goldfinches. Nice birds to get anywhere and it lifted our mood.

Once our travel gear was off loaded, we were back on the trails again at Bigelow Bog. We immediately picked up a few Purple Finches but the rest of the way, it was quiet; the icy conditions made it quite a treacherous walk so we did not get too far in on the trail. With light fading, we called it a day and headed for dinner. We had gone 0 for 3 but kept our spirits up. Dinner at Nonna Fina was nothing to write home about. Joe seemed satisfied but I had a hard time putting away the "Personal Pizza" we shared.

The next day, breakfast at McKenizie's Grill was very good and our hostess, kept our coffee cups filled and often. By 7:00 a.m. we were on the road heading back to Bigelow Road. This time we scored quickly and bagged Gray Jays who followed us around on the trail looking for handouts. We had some peanuts which they gladly took. We left Bigelow Bog after trying for and not finding any Boreal Chickadee or Black-backed Woodpecker. Next, we headed to Keene Valley where we decided to drive around in the hopes of running into Bohemian Waxwings. We tried several areas that looked reasonably good but with no luck. I checked in on local reports and mentioned to Joe that Evening Grosbeaks were reported in an area about an hour away. We had decided that we might be better off taking a shot at the Grosbeak area and reluctantly decided that we had dipped on Bohemian Waxwings again. Before heading off, we decided to give one area another crack. We had almost reached the area where we would split off for the drive to the Grosbeak location when I heard Waxwings. I asked Joe to stop the car and strained my ears to listen. At first, nothing and I began to think that I was talking myself into hearing Waxwings, when I heard the sounds again. I quickly tried to get a bead on where it was coming from. Across the road a flutter of wings caught my eyes and I glassed the area. We got Waxwings, I yelled at Joe. As Joe tried to get a look around me through my window, I yelled again. There are Bohemian Waxwings in that flock. We hurriedly parked and scurried over frozen ground, crossed the road and pulled up near a house that had a Mountain Ash Tree with Berries. Frustratingly, by the time we crossed the road the Waxwings were nowhere to be seen but I could hear them. It was Joe who spotted them in a nearby Blue Spruce, they apparently flew up there as traffic went by but came back to the Mountain Ash Tree shortly after. The home owner who is bird friendly came over to chat and extended an invitation for us to spend as much time on his property. I love the generosity of nature loving people and I love Bohemian Waxwings. Joe was patient with me and I eventually very reluctantly pulled myself away after getting in a rather extended satisfied view. I could have stayed there much longer. We had scored a big one, talk about luck!

The rest of the day did not work out well bird wise but we did great with people. We dipped on Evening Grosbeak but met Paul whose Intel sharing led us to Lynn who was radiating with positive energy--a very kind soul. We were invited into her home and she made tea and coffee for Joe and I. Her bird feeders setup was amazing and we were invited to roam her property to look for birds. It was a very cold morning so Lynn's hospitality was spot on and we sipped Coffee and Tea and watched birds coming to her feeders. We were not doing great with the birds but when it came to people, we had struck gold! After warming up, we decided we had taken up enough of Lynn's time and decided that we would take a run at Paul Smith's VIC. I got to be straight, I was thinking we should bird somewhere else but went along with the plan anyway.  It turned out to be a rather wasteful drive to Paul Smith's VIC (Visitor's Interpretive Center). I have not had much luck in the past few trips there and this trip was no better. It was a short visit and we quickly headed back to Evening Grosbeak searching but had no luck. We did visit Lynn again and met her husband John who was just as welcoming and shared his stories of nature encounter. These are my kind of people, I could have stayed up there much longer.

Dinner that night was much better at Meet and Eat in Saranac Lake, which I mostly have to thank Betsy, Joe's better half at finding that spot. Even though she was not with us, Betsy's influence played a role in me having a much better dinner experience than the previous night. Joe and I refueled and planned for the next day. We had debated on what time to get started the next day but Joe after sleeping on it woke up the next morning at 5:00 suggesting we needed to get on the road. Breakfast was going to have to wait but who cares when there are birds to see...I was ready! We made a stop for coffee and I was wondering if we made a misstep after getting a call from our new friend Lynn who called me to let us know that Evening Grosbeaks were in the neighborhood. Luckily, we were ten minutes away by then and made it in the nick of time. The Evening Grosbeaks, which we picked up calling in some trees did not stay long and we counted our lucky stars that we made it in time. Lynn, John and Paul were very happy for us and we thanked them for their hospitality and especially for Lynn keeping an eye out for those birds. We birded in the area and picked up some nice birds including multiple Pileated Woodpeckers. With lots of time left in the day we decided to try Sabattis Bog for Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee. Neither of us had birded there and it turned out our prep work was not done properly as we could not find the right area for an entrance to the bog and so settled on birding Circle Road. We saw additional Gray Jays, Turkeys and a nice adult Bald Eagle but none of our target birds. I talked Joe into leaving so that we could take another crack at Bigelow Road for the Woodpecker and Chickadee. We got one out of two when we managed to spot a shy Boreal Chickadee moving with a flock of Black-capped Chickadees. We had another target bird but it had taken us all day. By then the light was fading and after one other stop elsewhere to try for Black-backed Woodpecker, we called it a night. Dinner was once again at Meet and Eat and we planned out our last day over our meal

We were up early, had a quick breakfast, checked out and hit the road. We had decided to try Sabattis Bog again after deciding to adjust our plan to once again make a run at the rare bird we had dipped on during our inbound ride up north. Sabattis Bog, again proved to be tough for us but with time running out on we managed to pull out Red Crossbills. It wasn't easy leaving but we had to finally bid the Adirondacks farewell. As with any trip up north, you head there with a target list of birds and hope to get as many as you could. We had missed a few but neither of us were complaining, we had a couple of nice days birding up north, met some very nice people and we did see some neat birds. The trip in my opinion was a success. Next stop Ulster County.
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Friday, March 4, 2016

Banded Ring-billed Gull - BZHC

On December 7th 2015, I documented a banded Ring-billed Gull at Flushing Meadow in Queens. After submitting my report to the banding station in Quebec Canada where there is an ongoing research program on the ecology of Ring-billed Gulls. I received word from Professor Jean - Francois Giroux who sent me information about band BZHC. This is the first time I have seen this many re-sight entries for a RBGU (Ring-billed Gull) an encouraging sign that more observers are submitting their reports.




Banded Ring-billed Gull BZHC (B=Blue)
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Monday, February 29, 2016

Greater White-fronted Goose, My Newest Queens County Bird

It is getting harder to add new birds in my home county of Queens NY. When I found out via the RBA (Rare Bird Alert) on the 12th of February that a Greater White-fronted Goose was seen at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens on February 10th. I was like Blistering Barnacles!?! With all the tools these days that are used to report birds, I was disappointed that this bird was not posted or shared for several days. It is not like GWFG is a common bird in Queens. Heck, according to eBird this was only the 4th such record. I looked for the Goose the following day (Saturday) in frigid temperatures with no luck.  Another Queens birder, Corey Finger, who works his county list with religious fervor, also had no luck on that day. An entire week went by and life and work got in the way of checking for that bird again. Truthfully, I had chalked it up as a miss. On Sunday February 21st, when I got a text message from Corey that the Greater White-fronted Goose was being seen again at Flushing Meadow Park, I swung into gear, elated that I had another crack at the bird. Not without some drama though, as Corey texted me while I was suiting up to report that the Goose had flown after being flushed by a dog. It did not go far though and ended up at the north end of Flushing Meadow Lake and was still there when I arrived.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
I spent some time watching the Goose on the lake and then on the shores where I observed its behavior as it fed among a flock of "white-cheeked Geese" it was associating with. This was one of the palest GWFG, I have seen and it seemed a good fit for a. albifrons it seemed rather paler looking than a.flavirostris which is the Greenland race .  It appeared comfortable and only got nervous when dogs were in the vicinity. It was a dog that caused it to relocate as I watched it get spooked onto the Lake by one park visitor who thought nothing to have his dog wander off-leash.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
Here is one of the last looks that I had that day of the Greater White-fronted Goose as it sat on the lake after being flushed by an unleashed dog. There are park rules about dogs off-leash but it seems most people don't care to follow them and often no one from Parks is around to enforce these rules. Too bad because several birders who arrived a bit later could not re-find the Greater White-fronted Goose. Making me even more grateful that I saw it when I did.

2nd from R- Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)


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