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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Birding around the Bronx and Westchester

Shane and I wanted to see how many owls species we could locate in one day. We would concentrate our efforts north of Manhattan in the Bronx and three other locations in Westchester County. There are some areas within the five boroughs of NYC where, historically, owls have been known to reside during the winter months. In an effort to protect the birds I won't reveal exact locations, so please don't ask.

We tried to arrive at our first destination by first light. New York's unpredictable traffic had other ideas. Despite having to endure delays caused by two accidents we still managed to arrive pretty early. Finding owl white wash on the snow was impossible so we looked for any on tree branches or holes in the white powder caused by ejected pellets. Within the first five minutes of looking we found neither but I got lucky and managed to locate a Long-eared Owl. It was still pretty dark and I thought that perhaps he had just settled down to sleep after a night of hunting. He had assumed a stretched out, camouflage posture to try and blend in with the branches. His eyes were opened and we didn't want to bother him so we left after about a minute to resume our search.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-What are pellets? click here-

We spoke in whispers but our boots announced our presence as they squeaked against the dry, corn starch snow. A Great Horned Owl took off flying through the woods in front of us...just what we were trying to avoid. It had only been about fifteen minutes since we left the car; two owls, not bad. About an hour later we began checking the branches of a large Norway Spruce. I was drawn to the tree first by it's large size and dense cover but when we got closer I noticed something curious beneath its large, drooping boughs. The snow was covered with tiny mouse tracks looping and turning all over the place. As we followed the tracks it seemed like just one rodent made all the marks. Was he fleeing a predator? Had he been gnawing on espresso beans? It was very strange.

Crazy mouse tracks

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At our next location we quickly found a Northern Saw-whet Owl. The branches below his roost were covered with white wash. He must have been using that particular roost for a long time. This time we were stealthy enough that we didn't wake the little guy. I took a couple of quick photos then we left him to his dreams.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Orchard Beach is on a peninsula that faces east, towards the Long Island Sound. Around the north end of the peninsula is a small, protected cove. Taking a break from owls we scanned the numerous waterfowl in that area. We estimated that there were about five thousand scaup present. Mixed in among the black and white ducks were Canada Goose, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Canvasback, a single Redhead, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Ruddy Duck. I never realized that Pelham Bay Park had such a great number and variety of over wintering waterfowl.

It was still pretty early so Shane thought we should take a drive to the Edith G. Read Sanctuary in Rye. There had been a report of a Tufted Duck and some longspurs a few days ago, plus it was somewhat on our way to our final destination. The lake at the sanctuary was frozen and there was no sign of either of the two species. We scanned the sound for a little while but, with blinding sun in our faces and reflecting of the water, finding anything unusual was difficult.

The Marshlands Conservancy isn't too far from the sanctuary so we made a brief detour. Sandra Marraffino, who we met at the sanctuary, recommended we check out their feeders as Wild Turkeys frequently fed on the spillage. Unfortunately, the only turkey we saw was in my sandwich so we just ended up eating our lunch before moving on to Croton Point Park.

As we pulled into the visitor's center at Croton Shane excitedly pointed out something over the grasslands. A Rough-legged Hawk was hovering in place as it scanned the ground for prey. A Northern Harrier passed below him. Farther back on the hill a Red-tailed Hawk was also hunting. Two more harriers began following the contour of the hillside in search of prey. A young Bald Eagle flew by above the ice behind us. We were in bird-of-prey heaven.

Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It has been a good winter for Short-eared Owls at croton so we just parked the car and waited for one to appear. Within a relatively short period of time one flew up from his roost in the grass and perched on top of a marker. Shane set-up his scope for a closer look. There were a few other birders in the area. The owl seemed to ignore the human presence as he pivotted his head from side to side looking for food in the dried, wind blown grass. I took a few photos through Shane's scope. The last time I was at Croton Point Park there was no ice on the Hudson. Today Croton Bay was frozen over and the edge of the river looked more like the arctic ocean. A quick scan of the ice found six perched eagles.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We ended our day at Croton Point Park feeling like we accomplished our goals. A Barn Owl would have been a nice addition to the other four species but I really can't complain.

An icy Hudson River

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Pelham Bay Park, Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshlands Conservancy (very briefly), Croton Point Park, 1/25/2005
Red-throated Loon (Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary)
Double-crested Cormorant (Croton Point Park)
Canada Goose (various)
Mute Swan (various)
American Wigeon (Pelham Bay Park)
American Black Duck (various)
Mallard (various)
Canvasback (Pelham Bay Park)
Redhead (Pelham Bay Park)
Greater Scaup (Pelham Bay Park)
Lesser Scaup (Pelham Bay Park)
White-winged Scoter (Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary)
Long-tailed Duck (Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary)
Bufflehead (various)
Common Goldeneye (Pelham Bay Park, Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary)
Hooded Merganser (Croton Point Park)
Common Merganser (Croton Point Park)
Red-breasted Merganser (Pelham Bay Park)
Ruddy Duck (Pelham Bay Park)
Bald Eagle (Several, Croton Point Park)
Northern Harrier (Croton Point Park)
Red-tailed Hawk (various)
Rough-legged Hawk (Croton Point Park)
Ring-billed Gull (various)
Herring Gull (various)
Great Black-backed Gull (various)
Rock Pigeon (various)
Mourning Dove (various)
Great Horned Owl (Pelham Bay Park)
Long-eared Owl (Pelham Bay Park)
Short-eared Owl (3 or 4, Croton Point Park)
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Pelham Bay Park)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (various)
Downy Woodpecker (various)
Hairy Woodpecker (Croton Point Park)
Blue Jay (various)
American Crow (various)
Black-capped Chickadee (various)
Tufted Titmouse (various)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Croton Point Park)
White-breasted Nuthatch (various)
Carolina Wren (Croton Point Park)
Winter Wren (Pelham Bay Park)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Croton Point Park)
Hermit Thrush (Pelham Bay Park)
American Robin (various)
Gray Catbird (3, Pelham Bay Park)
Northern Mockingbird (various)
European Starling (various)
Northern Cardinal (various)
American Tree Sparrow (Pelham Bay Park, Croton Point Park)
Savannah Sparrow (Croton Point Park)
Fox Sparrow (Pelham Bay Park)
Song Sparrow (various)
Swamp Sparrow (Croton Point Park)
White-throated Sparrow (various)
White-crowned Sparrow (8, Croton Point Park)
Dark-eyed Junco (various)
Red-winged Blackbird (Pelham Bay Park)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Pelham Bay Park)
House Finch (Marshlands Conservancy)
American Goldfinch (various)
House Sparrow (various)


Anonymous said...

Wow. Great owling. What time of day were you at Croton? I was under the impression that the short-ears were active in the afternoon.

Frank said...

Wow, what a wonderful day of birding!!! I plan to take an all day trip from Long Island up around Croton Pt Park in the next two weeks for bird photography. Really hoping for some owl and bald eagle pictures! Any tips would be appreciated!

Rob J. said...


Check out the Hudson River Audubon website. They have lots of great location information and tips:

Good birding,


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