Monday, January 30, 2012

Today's Photo - Cackling Goose...

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Today's Photo - Male Northern Shoveler...

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pink-footed Goose in Queens NY...

Late this afternoon while on a quest to find Cackling Goose in Queens, I found a Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) in an area known by some as the LIE/CIP Interchange or Alley Restoration. I have provided a map (see below) to illustrate the location. The area is just off Douglaston Parkway and West Alley Road. Note that Horace Harding Expressway runs into West Alley Road, so be aware of that. Your best bet is to park near 66th Avenue off of Douglaston Parkway and cross the street heading North, just past the bus station (I forgot what bus was listed) look on your left down into the gully and there is the water source with waterfowl.

Quite a number of Canada Geese departed before I left this evening, but the Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) stayed (at least until the light was gone) and my bet is that it will likely overnight at the location. Please Note: The vegetation and layout is not suited for high traffic, so I caution folks going to chase this bird to please refrain from trampling around the edge destroying the vegetation. I have provided some photos below.  Too bad Eric Miller could not have joined me this afternoon as I would have liked to have shared this bird with him since he was the one who showed me this location.

View Alley Restoration in a larger map

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Van Cortlandt Bird Walk Report 1-14-2012...

On Saturday, 5 intrepid birders joined me for our bird walk at Van Courtlandt Park in the Bronx NY.  It was a cold morning and one of our new attendees who I know from other NYC Audubon walks indicated that she was hoping to get a lifer, the Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), which had stayed into the new year.  Using our strategy of birding the parade grounds, I held the group back as I noticed small groups of geese began arriving.  I was gambling that the Greater White-fronted Goose would show up.  After a few minutes of waiting, the gamble paid off as I heard then spotted the Greater White-fronted Goose arriving with a flock of Canada Geese.  It was a good way to start our walk and nice to get a lifer for someone.  After studying the flock of Canada Geese for any possible Cackling, which I did not find, I led the group around Van Courtlandt Lake.

Along the way we picked up a few passerines, but nothing unusual. Waterfowl numbers were very low and only a few Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) and Pied Billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) were of note on the lake. We had a very cooperative juvenile Red-tailed Hawk which gave us all very obliging looks.  Bird seed near the bridge by the golf course brought in a few of the usual suspects and the group enjoyed close up views of Red-bellied Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches.  A pleasant surprise were 2 Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus), which came in for close up views.  We completed our loop of the lake and headed up towards Vault Hill where we were treated to great looks at 2 Golden Crowned Kinglets and a Brown Creeper.  After a brief stop at the North Woods, we ended our walk soon after with 32 species. See below for a complete list.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
Herring Gull (American) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid) (Anas rubripes x platyrhynchos)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday...

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Today's Photo - Hooded Mergansers...

Female and Male Hooded Mergansers photographed while doing my waterfowl count at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Queens NY.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 Bronx Christmas Bird Count...

The annual Bronx Christmas Bird Count took place on December 26th.  I decided this year to help out naturalists/birders, Eric Miller and George Dadone on their territory which covered areas in the East Bronx (East of Bronx River). Both Eric and George are excellent naturalists and Eric a phenomenal birder, so I was looking forward to birding with either or both of them. We met with the area leader David Kunstler and other teams at George’s Diner on Buhre Ave in the Bronx and after a quick breakfast began our day of birding. Eric and I teamed up together and we began a long day of “Ground and Pound” covering our territory that we were assigned.
Fox Sparrow
We got off to a fantastic start, picking up a couple of Common Ravens (Corvus corax) flying near the parking lot we had just left before we headed out into the woods. Taking the Pelham Bridle Path, we began adding to our day list, picking up several expected species in Fox Sparrows (Passerella iliaca), Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals to name a few. We had a few target birds in mind, such as Orange Crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata), Eastern Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) and Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) + any Owls we could find. Our first target bird was about a mile in as a Brown Thrasher flushed after some well intentioned pishing by Eric. We thought it could have been the bird I spotted on the trail as we neared the area, but we could not be sure.
Female Eastern Towhee
A little further up the trail, after getting our only Wild Turkey of the day (a rather unhealthy looking individual), Eric pished up an female Eastern Towhee. This would be the first of two females of the day as we ended up with 7 Eastern Towhees, five of which were males. I marveled at the difference in location and results as it pertained to Towhees; the week before, I could not buy a Towhee during the Captree Christmas Bird Count despite several forays into dense undergrowth. We continued birding and were surprised at a flock of Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus) flying over the marsh and into the golf course. We would later venture into the Golf Course and added several birds to our list though we never connected with the Rusty’s again.

Palm Warbler
Another mile or so into the trail near Split Rock, we picked up two Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum), one bright individual and one drab looking bird. We later heard from George that he had found a Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) in that same area and both species turned out to be saves for the count. Near the end of our hike we flushed a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), who was probably not impressed with our forays into the undergrowth near its roosting spot. In that same area we managed to pick up a couple of Swamp Sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) and a lone Gray Catbird. After connecting with George later in the afternoon, we met up with Steve Walter on City Island and tried to find a female Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) he had reported earlier, but we could not find it. We returned to scan the landfill for Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), but was unsuccessful, though we flushed an American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) near the stables, which also turned out to be a save.  For those of you not familiar with the CBC lingo, SAVE means finding a specie that no other teams found on that day. We had excellent weather for the time of the year and it contributed to a rather enjoyable day out in the field.  I had a great time birding with both Eric and George and I hope that I get to team up with them again next year for another round of CBC birding. Click here for count details and highlights.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Shorebirding in December...

Here are a couple of interesting images of Shorebirds in December. The photos were taken on December 10th, while birding at the Coast Guard Station at Jones Beach. Birder extraordinaire, Tom Burke who was there with Gail Benson and Bob Shriber, spotted two very interesting birds loafing with the flock of Dunlins (Calidris alpina) and other shorebirds on the sandbar. The first one was a leucistic Dunlin.

It was too bad this bird stayed tucked in and I was not able to get a digiscope profile shot with its bill untucked before the birds flew away and did not return in the time I was there. Some of you might be wondering what do I mean by leucistic? Well, leucism, or leukism, is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird’s feathers.

As a result, the birds do not have the normal, classic plumage colors listed in field guides and usually a leucistic bird ends up with several different looks, such as white patches where the bird should not have any, paler overall plumage that looks faint, diluted or bleached.  Check out this link to a page from the Cornell Lab Feederwatch Program that discusses leucism along with images of a variety of birds with the condition.

The second interesting bird we had that day is a peep deemed to be a Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) probably because of the time of the year and the thought that all Semis would have migrated by then. This bird, stayed at the far end of the sand bar and did not get as close as we all would have liked to study it some more. I somehow managed to get a somewhat decent digiscope shot. Take a look and let me know what you think. Pretty small bill for a Western don't you think? However, don't just look at the bill size, think of the base of the bill and body shape.

Here is an image where Dunlins are tucked in sleeping. But wait! What are those other larger shorebirds tucked in with them. Well, they are Red Knots! A nice example of "Birding by Impression".

This last image shows a Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus) with Black-bellied Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola).  Pretty good shorebirding for December, I think.

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Today's Photos - Common Eider...

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tim Gallagher and Richard Crossley on NPR...

The following are a few radio shows that I highly recommend readers to check out.

The first is Tim Gallagher from Cornell Lab talking about his search for the Imperial Woodpecker in the mountains of Mexico. It is a fascinating story on what started out as a quest to save a bird, ended up becoming a trip about Gallagher's own survival. Searching for a ghost bird. Here is a link to a video of what is the only known footage of this majestic woodpecker.

The second is Richard Crossley who was on NPR’s Science Friday just before Christmas. Ostensibly the interview was hooked to the Christmas Bird Count, but host Ira Flatow had some very nice things to say about The Crossley ID Guide and even did an on-air giveaway of the book with an audio bird ID contest. You can listen to the interview online: (look for the interview in the upper left corner of the page)

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday...

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Grace's Warbler - How IT Unfolded...

I have written the following in a style that I hope my readers find easy to follow and vicariously live the event that led to what could be the State's first record of a Grace's Warbler. Many thanks to the well wishers especially Angus Wilson who was generous with his praise and thanks to all who were there for the spectacular find.


It began in the parking lot when Seth Ausubel our team leader began discussing how we would divide up the area we needed to cover for the Atlantic area of the Southern Nassau Christmas Bird Count. We had just completed doing our seawatch duties and now needed to work on picking up land birds. The Rock Pile and edges of the parking lot at Point Lookout were all up for grabs. I asked to work the Pine Groves across from the parking lot because I wanted to take a crack at Owling. Seth agreed that he and Patricia Aitken would take the parking lot edges and Doug Gochfeld and I would do the Pine Groves and Rock Pile and then we would decide on how we would tackle the rest.

Before we parted ways, Doug retrieved a couple of 2 way radios, one which he kept for himself and the other for Seth. It was a good method to communicate with since cell phones often suffered from drop signals. On our way to the Pine Grove, Doug decided to call odds on how many passerines we would find. The number we worked with was “7”, I took under leaving Doug with over.

One of the not so open looks at the Grace's


Doug and I made our way to the edge of the Pine Grove and we both began pishing softly to see what birds we could kick up. The chip note of a Song Sparrow responded and then we had movement on one of the pines in the top. We both spotted the movement and tried to key in on the bird. It was a small bird and obviously a warbler. I caught a flash of yellow and muttered, “What do you think…Pine?” (referring to Pine Warbler). Doug by then had begun to try and get photos and I decided to do the same. The bird kept in the shadows of the tree tops and gave only teasing looks. Should we let Seth know I asked? Doug then got on his two way radio and radioed into Seth that we had a possible Pine Warbler. Seth's response was “good bird” and then dropped off. We pished some more and the bird came out further into the open and we took additional photos. Then, we both began looking at the photos that we had taken. Something was not right, about this bird but I could not put my finger on it. Yellow-throated Warbler? No, I did not think so. Doug by then had cycled through a few images and then said casually, “This looks like a Grace’s Warbler” (Setophaga graciae) What? No f@#% way was my response. Are you sure? We both turned back to look at the bird some more but it had dropped out of sight.


There was some silence, and then Doug asked if I had a field guide on me. Back at the truck I responded. I asked if I should get it, but Doug shrugged it off and suggested we continue birding. We continued on to the right of where we had the bird and into the grove, but it was obvious we were both preoccupied with this bird. I could not muster any images in my head that matched what I had blown up on my camera. A few minutes had elapsed during which we flushed a Brown Thrasher, which I managed to get on and then Doug who had returned to looking at his images said. “I think we need a field guide”.


The excitement began to build, as I stumbled back to the truck and retrieved my small Sibley’s Field Guide which I handed off to Doug, the problem was, it was of the Eastern Birds. Damn it I thought as I completely blanked that I had the big Sibley’s buried under all of the shorebird guides I normally take around with me. I somehow managed to find my National Geographic Guide and handed that off to Doug, who by then had also taken a peek at Pine Warbler, in the Eastern Field Guide. Doug looked at the National Geographic Field Guide and shook his head in the affirmative; it has to be a Grace’s. No doubt Doug's experience with this species in Arizona helped, but having the images on camera to look at and study with a Field Guide was invaluable!!!  I looked at the image in the guide and on my camera and my heart raced even faster, the realization began to sink in that we had probably landed a MEGA! But wait! I wanted another person to validate this find. Seth…, we had to get him on this bird!

Doug radioed into Seth and said, “I think we have a Grace’s Warbler”, you better get over here. Seth’s response and it is a classic was, “What? You had a Pine Warbler that has now turned into a Grace’s Warbler? What is this, a new sub species?” This to me was the best line of the day! It seemed like forever, but Seth finally made it over to where we were; he was prepared, having already looked at images of Grace’s in his Sibley’s. I walked over to Seth and showed him a blown up photo showing the Yellow in the supraloral. With another classic, Seth’s response was “Holy Mother @#$%#%” I knew then it was on!


Doug in the meantime confident of the ID, had already gotten Shai Mitra on the phone and broke the news. Seth after a few minutes got on the bird and once again confirmed we had the real deal. The excitement was overwhelming and while Seth and Doug did phone/text/post duties, I kept a watchful eye on the bird which had a tendency to disappear into the pines for minutes. The first to arrive was Doug Futumya and Rich Kelly, followed shortly thereafter after by Shai Mitra and Patricia Lindsay. The bird was not being seen and I could feel folks getting antsy. We were waiting for one other party, Tom Burke and his crew who finally arrived and right on time. As I detected the bird flying left from where we were standing. I shouted out the location but then it dropped out of sight; moments later the keen eyes of Barbara McBrien mother of Michael McBrien (Mr. Gray Kingbird) spotted the bird right where I had seen it flown and finally everyone present at that moment got on the bird. This was key, because if there were going to be any questions on the ID it would come from this group and thankfully all the comments were positive. The deal was sealed!  The word quickly spread and birders arrived in droves; many of them taking a break from their CBC count to chase the rarity, such was the power of GRACE.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Grace's Warbler at Point Lookout LI...

Just a few photos from today's find.  Some Christmas Bird Count find, don't you think?  I'll post more photos, plus a write up of the events later.

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