Friday, May 1, 2015

Cleanup in Forest Park Queens NY

When you see these folks at the Waterhole in Forest Park, Queens New York, you might want to say, "Thank You!" Heck, you might even want to consider giving up your prime viewing spot as a way to thank them for the work they did in cleaning and clearing up a path around the waterhole. These volunteers took the time out from their busy schedules to participate in a cleanup that was long overdue. In no order, the volunteers were John Anderson, John Heidecker, Eric Miller, Joe Smulkstis, Gail Benson, Thomas Burke, Jeffery Paris, Steve Walter, Frank Donovan, Daniel Melore, Robert Veltri, Jean Loscalzo and Wendy Armenio. Nicole Gamory and Josephine Scalia from Parks who were there to supervise the project were supportive of the event and instrumental in getting us tools.

For those of you not familiar with the Waterhole, it is one of several vernal pools (also called ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals.) in Forest Park Queens. This one has the distinction of being a magnet that attracts hordes of migrating birds. On a good spring migration day, birders and photographers can be seen in great numbers as they eagerly wait to get looks and photos of those colorful birds that sends hearts a flutter.

These days the Waterhole has lost some of its luster with many fallen trees impeding the path around the area. This created hazardous conditions for many--especially, those elderly birders and photographers. I have often wanted to go in and cleanup myself but rules are rules and so I have been trying to get something done with Parks approval but for one reason or another it never got off the ground until last Saturday
(April 24th).

Even then, it was hard like it usually is to get anyone to participate in these events. It seems either the dates are always wrong or people just don't see cleaning up around the places they bird and take photos at as a priority. I suspect that it is a bit of both. The latter is one of frustration for me because I think this is where many in the birding/photography community lose the plot. We cannot expect to get things done if we don't step up and be a part of the changes that are needed.

But I digress and enough of my ranting--I'll save that for another day. The volunteers who showed up for this event are to be commended as they worked with the few tools that were provided. I say "few" because all we had were a few loppers and hand saws. No power tools or rakes were involved. Nevertheless, this group of determined volunteers did an excellent job of cleaning up, cutting and removing several fallen trees and ended up clearing a path around the waterhole. It looked a lot better when we wrapped up the project and everyone was filled with pride as they surveyed the work that was done. Never underestimate a group of determined people, we got the job done!

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

White-throated Sparrow - a Photo Study

Migration is "slowly" picking up and while I, like many other birders are eager to see the return of those spring migrants. I have not forgotten those wintering birds and have been spending some time enjoying the ones in my backyard as they will soon be moving on. One such bird is the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). This is a bird that beeds from Yukon and the Northwest Territories south to northeastern Minnesota and Pennsylvania, east to New England and Newfoundland. Nests, can be found in brushy or semi-open mixed woods.  Its wintering range includes much of the eastern United States with small numbers in southwestern states and could be found on wood lots, scrub lands, gardens, and backyards. They frequently visit bird feeders like mine.

This is a fairly large Sparrow and sexes are similar with females generally duller than males. The photos of 3 different birds below were all taken in my backyard on April 15th, 2015. You get an idea of the variation in plumage. Let's look at the first photo which shows a rather handsome WTSP. This adult bird shows the striking head pattern showing the broad white supercilium and the bright contrasting yellow supraloral. The white throat is surrounded by a gray face and chest.

This second photo is another adult bird but take a look at the plumage and compare it to the bird above. This bird shows less dark gray in the face and chest. What about the post-ocular stripe? It looks browner on this bird.

How about this bird? Look how this bird shows even less yellow in the supraloral compared to the two birds above. What about the stripes? Do you notice the striping on the breast that run towards the flnak. We don't see this with the first bird but we do see some of it on the second bird. There is another field mark on this bird that is common with WTSP number 2. Look at the throat on this bird, it shows thin malar stripes which we see on the second bird but not the first. When I observed these two birds in my backyard, I wondered if these were what are referred to as "tan-striped" WTSP. What do you think? Have you seen White-throated Sparrows like this on the East Coast that looks like this?  Here is a tidbit on White-throated Sparrows. Do you know that both sexes may sing? Find a bird you think might be a female and see if it sings. The best time is early in the morning to watch them singing. 

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Banded Piping Plover At Tiana Beach Long Island

While doing my first Long Island shorebird survey of 2015, I found my 1st banded Piping Plover of 2015 on Dune Road--Tiana Beach, on Long Island. I sexed this bird as a female after watching it for a while and comparing the breast and forehead band against that of another Piping Plover, which I presumed was a male. The presumed male PIPL looked slightly larger and also had a bill that showed more and brighter orange at the base. Sexing Piping Plover in the field is not easy, but after carefully studying these two birds yesterday I was pretty comfortable that my banded bird was a female.

The scheme of the bands reminded me of the PIPL program of Virginia Tech and of a few Fire Island banded birds I found last year, so I e-mailed Dan Catlin one of the coordinators who confirmed that my banded bird was from one of the Fire Island project. Audrey Wilson a team leader of PIPL monitors who I met last year out at Cupsogue and was copied on the e-mail also provided additional information that confirmed the bird was a female (yay on my sexing) adult that was banded on Fire Island in 2013. Apparently, this bird had one chick in 2013 which did not survive. In 2014, this bird attempted nesting twice but was unsuccessful in both attempts.

The location that I found her, is different from last year and hopefully she will be successful this time around. If you find a banded bird, write down all of the information you could glean, including behavior and then attempt to contact the appropriate sites to report your find. On this blog are links to sites to submit  banded birds re-sightings. Reports on any banded birds are critical to the studying of such species especially an endangered one like the Piping Plover.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yellow-throated Warbler at Valley Stream State Park

Score one for Nassau County and for Valley Stream State Park as one of the sought after warbler of the migration season was found there. Photos of a Yellow-throated Warbler were apparently posted to Facebook on 3-30 and our very own Big Year Dude, Anthony Collerton, a keen birder with a good sense of responsibility, ensured that the wider audience heard of it by posting the sighting to the NY listserv. I will have more to say on this !@#$@#% FB phenomenon in another post.

Today, Robert Proniewych (try pronouncing that) refound the bird and called me to put out a post. Alas, I shirked my posting duties in lieu of work and so picked up his message only after he got around to posting it himself. Moments later I had an opportunity to try for it as I was on my way out, so  I grabbed camera, bins and headed over. It was a short ride and during that time, another birder, Ed Becher, generously offered to stick around to keep an eye on the bird for me.

I did not have to worry too much because as soon as I arrived and walked over to the stream where Ed, Bob Anderson and Stanley (don't know his last name) were looking at the bird, I could hear the chip note. Within minutes I was on the bird and after those guys departed, I helped other arriving birders to get on it. As far as I know, this is the first reported Yellow-throated Warbler in 2015 for the state and possibly for the tri-state area as I have not seen any sightings posted on our neighbors listservs. (Update @ 20:03 - Dawn Hannay, shared that one was reported from Cape May NJ on 3-26--NJ got theirs earlier than us). I could not resist, so I went in search of reported records in eBird. If my query is right, it looks as if this March sighting is the earliest report for the state (Thanks to Willie Danna who brought this to my attention -- the earliest record to date is March 26th at Forest Lawn Cemetry. A bird, found by Richard Salembier) This then is the earliest for region 10-- maybe the 2nd earliest for the state (?)  This bird showed "yellow" in the lores which would seem to qualify it as (Dendroica dominica); however, there is so much variation that I am hesitant to outright say this. Check out the short billed (D. d. albilora) white lored type I photographed at Alley Pond Park in 2012. Research into the genetics and morphology of Yellow-throated Warbler is still sorting this subspecies thing out.

To get those starving for Warblers motivated, I have provided a few photos taken today. Now get out there and find your own good birds!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mew Gull In Brooklyn Not A Fan Of Everyone It Seems

A few of my friends who I won't name, very likely cringed when they read or got word that Angus Wilson and I got exceptionally good looks at the continuing rare and elusive Mew Gull in Brooklyn on Sunday March 22nd. One friend who was supposed to be in Brooklyn looking for this Gull must have been especially stung. Ironically, I only ventured to Brooklyn to help him find this bird and he never even showed up. I hope he enjoys the photos--in the words of Captain Haddock "Blistering blundering bird-brain!" I empathize though, as many birders are not keen to putting in hours of wait and watch only to leave empty handed. It is a tough game this birding thing of ours.

This stunning Mew Gull, has been seen near Ceaser's Bay Shopping center, in Gravesend Bay and at several spots all along Shore Pkwy in Brooklyn.  The eBird hotspots do not accurately show how many locations this Gull has been seen, since many checklists are merely tacked onto nearby hotspots but you get the picture. Interestingly, when I dug into eBird a little further looking for reports of Mew Gull from Jan-Mar 2015, I found a total of 27 checklists. Of the 27, only 21 were unique, meaning 6 names were repeat viewers. If we say 1-3 reports could have been misidentified then we might be looking at less than 20 legitimate sightings. This is a remarkably low number for a Gull this rare; especially, since this find by Shane Blodgett, is the NA subspecies, (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 

Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY
No doubt, Larophiles are a special lot but a rarity like this, I thought would be sure to bring out the listers or twitchers. So what gives? Several theories are in play here including accessibility, patience, time etc. The two that that I am leaning towards are: It could be, not a lot of people are that interested in a rare subspecies of Gull or people are showing up and searching but not finding this bird. To test the latter theory, I did another query in eBird, this time using a parameter other than "Mew Gull." This time, I found a total of 61 checklists for the area, with 31 of them being unique. Doing additional data mining, I realized there were quite a few people who had "probably" tried to find this bird and did not report seeing it. Giving credit to their honesty, this shows how difficult and elusive this bird has been for many.

Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY
But wait, there is more--at least that is how it appears. These numbers seem to indicate something else as well. I was expecting many more names of people that I am familiar with to be listed in my query. Trying to keep an open mind, I factored in that eBird, is not the end all for many birders who either continue to use Avisys or some other method of keeping track of what they saw. Additionally, I am sure some people who may have tried unsuccessfully, decided it was not worth the time or effort for a checklist. Even after taking all of that into account, I was still very surprised at the low numbers.

Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY
I am left to thinking that Gulls are just not attractive for many birders--even photographers. Especially, if there is a certain degree of difficulty in finding the target. Am I being too hard? Okay how about this reason. Perhaps, it all has to do with the rate of return. This bird has been a rather difficult subject to find and some people have expressed their frustration to me privately. Not many people want to walk miles along Shore Pkwy or stand around for hours without anything to show for it.  There are those birds who make you work for them; this happens to be one of them. If you want to see this bird, you are going to have to be willing to put in the time and be prepared to be disappointed more than once but keep trying; with a little luck, you might see it. Just don't forget to report it. I want to be proven wrong that there are more fans of Gulls than the data seems to suggest.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

MY Wintering Baltimore Orioles

You won't find this in The Kingbird (a New York State Avian Records Committee Publication). It is certainly not an extraordinary feat by any means when it comes to records in the city and overwintering birds. However, it is a significant record for my backyard and on a personal level a most satisfying achievement that I was able to keep two Baltimore Orioles happy through this winter of 2015. These birds should have been overwintering somewhere in Central or South America but they chose my backyard for what turned out to be a tough winter. The first Baltimore Oriole showed up on December 31st 2014 and the second bird showed on January 6th 2015, although I suspect it might have been there as early as the 4th since on that day I noticed a brighter bird and wondered if it was a different BAOR.

These two birds were not like my usual wintering backyard visitors like the expected White-throated Sparrows. They were royalty, deserving the type of high maintenance treatment for those special guests. And they certainly got that, keeping me on a tight schedule. Always ensuring that I kept their feeder well stocked with fruits and live meal worms.  It got to the point where they would chastise (chatter at me) me if I was late in refilling their feeder and I rather enjoy them flying right in and standing over my head whilst I refilled theirs and other feeders. The backyard birds for me hold a very special place as it was those visitors that rekindled a love for birds that was always there since my childhood.

Keeping those feeders well stocked, the bird bath clean all through winter requires commitment and well lets face it -- money (sacrificing those eat out joints helped). It is rewarding though when you have birds like Icterus galbula at the feeders on a day when it is snowing. How many people in NYC could boast that they enjoyed Baltimore Orioles all winter at their feeders? I bet not many. So, indulge me as I share or brag about these two fine birds who are still here but at some point will depart, no doubt leaving me a bit sad but happy that I was able to give something back to the birds that bring me such joy. My friend Sandra Paci, teased me that I have spoiled these two Baltimore Orioles but they won't forget my kindness. I hope she is right because I won't forget them either.

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