Friday, November 28, 2008

Backyard birding update…

Yesterday, while I was out in the backyard cleaning the birdbaths, I was surprised to see a Red-tailed Hawk fly low over the backyard.   I had reported a Red-tailed back in October, so I am not sure if this was the same bird.   Now, that would be something if we had a Red-tailed Hawk in the neighborhood along with the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that have been showing up regularly.

The usual visitors like the Cardinals, Bluejays, White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows are still here along with the Red-bellied woodpecker, Titmice, Downy Woodpecker and the Fox Sparrows.   Goldfinches are all but gone with the occasional straggler showing up to feed; no longer am I seeing the flocks that were at the feeders only a few weeks ago.

Some comments on the Downy Woodpecker.   Downy's are often confused with Hairy Woodpecker due to the closeness in resemblance.   However, there are several distinctive ID features to look for in a Downy that will help.   Here are a few tips to use.  Downy Woodpeckers, show dark bars on the outer tail (which is white...see my Downy photo in this post for reference)...though it is important to also note that some Hairy show the bars as well.   Downy Woodpeckers also has a smaller bill and is smaller in size than a Hairy. My perspective is, once you have seen a Hairy Woodpecker, it will be easier to determine between a Downy or Hairy.

Here are some recent photos.

Red-bellied Woodpecker caught with a peanut.

Downy Woodpecker.

Fox Sparrow, just as the Red-tailed flew over...note the cocked angle of the head looking up at the possible danger.

Fox Sparrow foraging on the ground for seed remains.

Not a great photo; however, I have posted it to show the Red-tailed Hawk, that I spotted yesterday over the backyard. As you could see it has a pigeon in its sight. Share with Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winter fowl walk at Jamaica Bay West Pond…

Following Saturday's Winter fowl walk, I decided to return to Jamaica Bay the next day to see if a few degrees of warm weather would bring birds closer to the shore.   I was hoping that pockets of water opening up on the frozen pond would give me closer and better looks at some of the water fowl we saw during yesterday’s walk.   I was not disappointed, as I got really good looks at a number of birds and got some decent photos.   Here is a list of birds sighted.
  1. American Black Duck/Mallard Hybrid
  2. American Coot
  3. American Robin
  4. American Wigeon
  5. Brandt
  6. Bufflehead
  7. Canadian Geese
  8. Cooper’s Hawk
  9. Dark-eyed Junco
  10. European Starling
  11. Gadwall
  12. Great Blue Heron
  13. Greater Scaup
  14. Green-winged Teal
  15. Hooded Merganser
  16. House Finch
  17. Mallard
  18. Mute Swan
  19. Northern Harrier
  20. Northern Mockingbird
  21. Northern Pintail
  22. Northern Shoveler
  23. Red-breasted Merganser
  24. Ruddy Duck
  25. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  26. Snow Geese
  27. Song Sparrow
  28. White-throated Sparrow
  29. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Some of the Photos taken.

American Wigeon with Ruddy Ducks.

Bufflehead Duck.

Female Hooded Merganser.

Northern Pintail.

Northern Pintail with American Black Duck/Mallard Hybrid. Share with Bookmark and Share

Saturday, November 22, 2008

News from the backyard...

Goldfinches were still arriving in numbers until Thursday when a cold front saw the numbers began dwindling at the feeders.   The Red-bellied Woodpecker is still here and frequents the suet feeder, so I have to keep it readily stocked.   The titmice continue to show up as well and The Coopers Hawk has become a regular visitor; just this morning, I saw him chow down a pigeon in the pine tree...if he keeps this up, I may have to get him a name.

Then this afternoon, after my walk at Jamaica Bay I went into the backyard, to restock the feeders and to put some warm water in the birdbaths when I saw a Fox Sparrow foraging on the ground.   I had reported Fox Sparrows on the 15th, and since then I had not seen any, so this afternoon's sighting got me all excited because I wanted to get a better photo of this bird.   I spent 30 minutes in the cold on the ground maneuvering for a decent photo, but in the end it was worth it.

Two things made it difficult for me.   First, the Fox Sparrow was spending its time on the ground looking for food and I wanted to be respectful and not attempt to disturb it, so I was very careful not to startle it.   Secondly, I had obstacles in my way that prevented a clear I had to really get creative in getting an open shot.

Here are some recent photos from the backyard...

Note the Goldfinch with the white patch on the head.   This is unusual and is attributed to some type of pigmentation according to Scott from bird Forum.

Cooper's in the pine after a rainy morning.

This morning, I watched and waited until this Cooper's had its breakfast before I took this photo.

Male and Female Red-winged Blackbirds at the feeder.

Fox Sparrow foraging in the backyard. Share with Bookmark and Share

NYC Audubon Winter Waterfowl Walk at Jamaica Bay…

Today, I volunteered as an assistant to Don Riepe on a Winter Water Fowl walk at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.   The walk began at around 10:15 a.m. and our group which was about 20 attendees headed out around the West Pond trail.   It was a cold day and the wind around the pond made it worse…this was the coldest day I had experienced at Jamaica Bay this year.   When we got to bench one, we saw that the water close to the shore had frozen; this was not a good sign because the icy conditions would force the birds further out into the pond away from the shore making it much more difficult to view them.

We walked a bit further, but the wind, which was blowing across the pond right into our faces along with the cold was just too much…the temperature, had to be in the single digits or close to hitting the negative mark.   Don decided that we could take a shot at the East Pond where the wind might not be as gusty, so we headed back to the visitor’s center.  I stopped off at the center and borrowed a pair of work gloves since I was foolish enough not have brought a pair and my hands were freezing from carrying my scope with no gloves.

Over at the East Pond, the conditions were much better and we immediately saw American Coots, Red-breasted Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads.   Further viewing of the pond revealed even more water birds, including a Great Blue Heron, Greater Scaups, Northern Shovelers, Mallards and a Northern Harrier.  We spent about half an hour and then decided to head back. Along the way we stopped off at Big John’s pond and some of us saw a Cooper’s Hawk and most of saw Green Winged Teals.  Only some saw the Cooper’s because big John’s blind could only hold so many people and by the time the second bunch of viewers had moved into the blind, the Cooper’s had flown off.  We continued back to the visitor’s center where we wrapped up the walk.  Given the cold, it was not a bad walk and kudos to the group who all stuck it out to the end.

Here is a list of our sightings:
  1. White-throated Sparrow
  2. Northern Mockingbird
  3. Hooded Merganser
  4. Red-breasted Merganser
  5. Mallard
  6. Brandt
  7. Canadian Geese
  8. Snow Geese
  9. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  10. House Finch
  11. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  12. European Starling
  13. Bufflehead
  14. American Wigeon
  15. Gadwall
  16. Northern Shoveler
  17. Ruddy Duck
  18. Northern Harrier
  19. Cooper’s Hawk
  20. Great Blue Heron
  21. American Robin

Green Winged Teals relax at Big John's pond while a Mallard dives for snacks.

That Mallard is not giving up on whatever it is looking for. Share with Bookmark and Share

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fox Sparrow in the backyard!!!

A magnificent way to start the day...I heard what I thought could have been Goldfinches and instead I saw a couple of Fox Sparrows in the backyard.   The rain and poor lighting conditions made it very difficult to get a decent shot and the ones that I took came out blurry...though, I may post one anyway just to illustrate this fantastic find.

This is the first time that I have seen a Fox Sparrow in the backyard and I am ecstatic (can you feel my joy) about this sighting! Also, the Cooper's was again spotted in the back paying an early morning visit; after he left a Downy Woodpecker visited the suet feeder.   Not a bad way to start the morning.   The presence of the Fox Sparrow means that the backyard list, is now up to to 80 birds now recorded...20 more to crack the century mark.   Who would have figured a little backyard in Queens NY could have this many visitors. Share with Bookmark and Share

Friday, November 14, 2008

House Sparrows creating an issue at the nyjer feeders in the backyard...

Migratory visitors are still passing through.   I have seen flocks of Robins, Siskins, Cedar Waxwings and Goldfinches heading west/southwest.   Some Siskins and Goldfinches have flown into the backyard to get a bite from the nyjer feeders.   However, I am afraid that I have detected a problem that these birds are going to encounter when they stop over; the problem is in the form of House Sparrows, who I have observed chasing the Goldfinches in from the feeders.

The nyjer feeders that I provide, include some that have the upside down feeder holes where “supposedly” only certain birds are adept to feeding from them excluding the House Sparrows.   Unfortunately, the House Sparrows in my backyard seemed to have adapted to the feeders and I see them actually perching upside down like Goldfinches in an attempt to access the nyjer seeds.   I need to do some additional observation, to conclude whether they are really eating the seeds from an upside down feeder or whether they are merely trying to get the seeds out of the feeder onto the ground.   In any case, the House Sparrows are bullying the Goldfinches when they attempt to feed and I have to find a way, to help the Goldfinches get their much needed replenishment for their long journey.

Also, yesterday my oldest boy, an upcoming birder spotted a Copper’s Hawk as he was doing his homework.   It was perched on the lamp post right outside the window where he was working.   I was very pleased that he was not only able to spot this bird, but also called it correctly; this is not easily done as many birders struggle to differentiate between a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper's Hawk.   Here are some photos from the backyard.

Goldfinch at the nyjer feeder.

House Finch taking a bath.

Goldfinches stopping over for a bite.   Note the House Sparrow also to the left...they are very aggressive and go after the Goldfinches in a vicious manner.

Cooper's Hawk staking out the backyard. Share with Bookmark and Share

West Pond Stroll at Jamaica Bay...

I went out for a stroll around the West Pond at Jamaica Bay on Veterans Day to see if any new arrivals had shown up.   Including the ducks that I noted a few days ago I saw Red-breasted Mergansers and a Sharp Shinned Hawk.   Here are some photos.

American Coot.

White-throated Sparrow

Sharp Shinned Hawk Share with Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pine Siskins visit the backyard…

Today, I heard the sounds of Pine Siskins and so I grabbed my bins and took a look outside.   I was elated to see 4-7 Siskins in the backyard around the nyjer feeders.   I love to watch these cute birds, so I am hoping they hang around for a while; maybe they will encourage more visitors.  Here are a few photos.

Pine Siskin on the grape vines.

Pine Siskin visiting the nyjer feeder.

Pine Siskin on the grape vines. Share with Bookmark and Share

1 Million Trees Planting Day at Mount Loretto in Staten Island…

On Saturday, I spent my day volunteering with NYC Audubon and Together Green in the MillionTreesNYC Fall Volunteer Planting Day that occurred across the five boroughs in NYC.   While I live in Queens and could have volunteered at Kissena Park, I decided to work with NYC Audubon, which took me out to Mount Lortetto, Staten Island where I joined many volunteers from a number of organizations to plant Tulip poplar, Sweetgum, Eastern white pine, White oak, Scarlet oak, Pin oak, Chestnut oak, Sassafras, and Eastern red cedar.

The planting site that our group was given was hard on the back as the soil was compacted clay, which was rocky and made it very hard to break.   There were some pre-dug holes, but they were small and so volunteers had to expand the diameter and depth of the holes in order to properly plant the trees.   Nevertheless, volunteers toughed it out and even worked in the rain in completing our goal of planting 2000 trees at the site.

Mount Loretto, is known as a place for birds, so I decided to do a bit of birding before the project began.  I ended up seeing, Red-Throated Loons, Common Loons, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, Merlin, Swamp Sparrow, Song Sparow, White-throated Sparrow, Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird and Blue-Jays.  I plan to go back out there not only to bird, but to also check up on the plants to see how they are doing.

One of the site where some of the 2000 trees were planted. Share with Bookmark and Share

West Pond visit at Jamaica Bay…

Today, the weather was nice with good light, so I decided to take a walk around the West Pond at Jamaica Bay.   It appeared that many people felt the same way; the trail was quite busy with folks out for a casual stroll as well as photographers and birders.   The highlight of my day was the Northern Pintail that was seen on the West Pond around bench number one.   Here is my list of birds from the walk.
  1. White-throated Sparrow
  2. Flocks of Goldfinches (flying overhead)
  3. House Finches
  4. Great Egret
  5. Snowy Egret
  6. Great Blue Heron
  7. Mallard
  8. American Wigeon
  9. Northern Pintail
  10. Greater Scaup
  11. Lesser Scaup
  12. Bufflehead
  13. Ruddy Duck
  14. American Black Duck
  15. Green Winged Teal
  16. Horned Grebe
  17. American Coot
  18. Northern Mockingbird
  19. Canadian Goose
  20. Snow Goose
  21. Double Crested Cormorant
  22. Hooded Merganser

Hooded Mergansers with Green Winged Teal in the background.

Northern Pintail. Share with Bookmark and Share

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Monk Parakeets visting the platform feeder in the backyard...

Monk Parakeets, have been showing up quite frequently in the backyard.   A few days ago, I heard a ruckus being made by a number of parakeets and saw them chasing a Cooper's Hawk.  While I have seen Crows and Starlings mob hawks, this was the first time I saw Parakeets demonstrating the same behavior.

Here are some photos of Monk Parakeets in the backyard.

Monk Parakeet hanging upside down from the Elderberry Shrub.

Monk Parakeet on a Cherry Tree.

An affectionate moment.
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Monday, November 3, 2008

A November walk along the West Pond at Jamaica Bay...

Today, I went to Jamaica Bay on an impromptu walk around the West Pond.   Since it is the time of the year for ducks, I was hoping to see a few visitors and hoped for surprises as well.  I was also motivated by an e-mail I received this morning from my friend Nancy who indicated that a birder had entered into the log book, the presence of Horned Grebes and mentioned hearing the sounds of a Least Bittern.

I got to the refuge around 9:30-10:00 a.m. and spent a few minutes behind the visitor’s center observing White-throated sparrows, Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos foraging on the ground.  As I proceeded further along the west pond I could hear the sounds of Yellow-rumped Warblers and near the first clearing by bench number one, I saw Robins, Catbirds and Swamp Sparrows; out into the South Marsh, I saw a couple of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets and Brandts…in addition, there was a possible little Blue Heron among the tall grass.

As I walked further along the trail, I saw the Horned Grebes in the area called Black Wall Channel, there were about five of them and they were sharing the area with Buffleheads and Brandts.  Over to my right in the West Pond, I came across American Wigeons, Brandts, Snowy Geese, Mute Swans, Greater Yellow Legs, Hooded Mergansers, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Green Winged-teals, Greater Scaup and Ruddy Ducks to name a few.  I walked up to bench number 10, near Pelican Point and then headed back.  Despite the overcast conditions, which made the lighting poor, it was not a bad day for a walk and I ended up with a decent list.

Here is my list of sightings:
  1. Song Sparrow
  2. White-throated Sparrow
  3. Swamp Sparrow
  4. Dark-eyed Junco
  5. Purple Finch
  6. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  7. Northern Mockingbird
  8. American Robin
  9. American Crow
  10. Black capped-Chickadee
  11. Gray Catbird
  12. Carolina Wren
  13. Great Egret
  14. Snowy Egret
  15. Little Blue Heron (strong possibility)
  16. Brandt
  17. Double Crested Cormorant
  18. Snow Geese
  19. Bufflehead
  20. American Black Ducks
  21. Canada Geese
  22. American Wigeon
  23. Green winged-teal
  24. Hooded Merganser
  25. Mallard
  26. Northern Shoveler
  27. Horned Grebe
  28. Greater Scaup
  29. Ruddy Duck
  30. Mute Swans
  31. Greater Yellow-Legs

Male and Female Buffleheads among the Brandts.  In this photo, the Bufflehead is easily spotted by its size which is the smaller of the two species.  The male also has the distinctive white patch on its head.

Horned Grebes in winter plumage.

Brandts in flight.

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Hooded Mergansers...notice the white fan shaped patch on the head of the male, which is conspicuous when raised. Share with Bookmark and Share

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November arrives and brings new visitors to the backyard…

I have been working hard at improving my birding by ear and it has paid off very well, as I am getting better at picking up the sounds which I then use to track the source.   This morning, I heard the unmistakable sounds of Goldfinches and my first thought was to check and see what else might have blown into the backyard.   I was not disappointed, a closer look not only revealed Goldfinches, but about 7-8 Chipping Sparrows.   As I enjoyed the view I saw a Purple Finch and an unusual backyard visitor…an Eastern Meadowlark.   The sight of the Meadowlark had me in such a state of excitement that I almost fell in my hurried scramble to get a photograph; the image while not great was enough to verify the sighting.
Here are some photos.

American Goldfinch in Winter Plumage.

Chipping Sparrow with the lovely chestnut crown.

Red-bellied Woodpecker visiting the suet feeder.


Song Sparrow.

Carolina Wren at one of the feeders...note the prominent white eye stripe.

Eastern unusual backyard visitor and the highlight for today. Share with Bookmark and Share