Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Binocular Guide

I'm frequently asked for binocular recommendations from new birders. I found an online buyer's guide with lots of good information that you should find helpful. I'll also add the link to the sidebar.

Wildlife Rehabilitator News

Wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath just sent an email regarding some recent raptor rescues. He had some good news and some not so good news:

From: Robert Horvath
Date: October 27, 2009
Subject: Raptor News

One of today’s stories turned out OK, for now. If the red-tailed spotted at 48th Street is truly in trouble, I'm sure somebody will spot it again shortly nearby. Thanks for all who were informed and concerned and offered assistance. This network can really help the city's birds for the future.

My second story isn't a good one. It concerns these pictures of the immature Red-tailed Hawk rescued today by Urban Park Rangers Vincent and DelPilar in the Bronx. They called me this afternoon after they captured the limping bird at a construction site on Bathgate Ave. between 175th and 176th streets in the Bronx. They will respond to calls even outside the park when permissible. They did an excellent job with this one. Seems this bird has been there for at least the past 2 days. After I met them and saw its condition I have no doubt somebody had this bird in their possession, evidenced by the brutal hatchet job done on its talons. How long cannot be told but the bird, even after this painful event, still has no fear and is comfortable around people and still handles easily. In addition, it has now a fractured wing I could detect after palpating. It's not life threatening and still in good alignment so should heal well hopefully. The talon issue is another story. They are open bloody stubs that I doubt can grow back enough for survival in the wild. It is limping because it is in so much pain. Cathy immediately gave her pain meds once home and we will consult our vet for long-term pain management and the best possible treatment. We've seen birds come in missing 1 or even 2 talons from accidents and even had birds lose a talon sheath while in our care if it accidently gets caught on something. With just 1 toe mishap it’s a bloody mess so it’s easy to understand it is now anemic from blood loss from its "nail clipping “. Please understand this is the reason why we jump the gun when we hear of any fuzzy or young bird being grounded in the city. They can easily be picked up and can end up in the wrong hands and, even if someday returned, often are ruined for life like this bird. I don't know if it was found as a fledgling or not but it is this year's baby. It is in good weight and feather condition so at least it has that much on its side. Somebody at least fed it well before it escaped or was released. It will be many months before any future will be known for this one.

Next, I received an injured Saw-whet Owl about 2 weeks from Manhattan. Beth Stern, wife of radio personality Howard Stern, had just left her home [...] near Broadway at 5am to walk her dog when she found the owl lying on the sidewalk. Nobody witnessed anything, but he has a wing injury and a possible fractured coracoid as well. Most likely some sort of collision, either car or window. He cannot fly presently, but is calm, quiet and eating well so we hope for the best for him. Beth is a huge animal lover and donates her time to North Shore Animal League and Wildlife Rescue of The Hamptons, as well, and has been contacting us to check on her little rescue regularly.

Lastly, one more sad story. We were very happy that James O'Brien, Peter Richter and his dad were able to trek out here to come release the young Bald Eagle we rescued last winter that came in with lead poisoning and some unknown sticky substance on her feathers. We met with DEC personal who banded her along with another Bald Eagle that Cathy had nursed back from avian pox virus in August. Well, we put her on the ground and she appeared stunned with her new found freedom and hopped and skipped along in the tall grass. We caught her and thought that maybe she needed a little lift so we then put her on a 5 foot perch and she took off beautifully and sat in a tree 100 yards away, and we watched her until we had to leave. Ten days later I was at work (as usual, when the sh** usually hits the fan), when Cathy got a call that a guy found a huge hawk at the beach. It's now in his garage. Well, that day it was pouring and Cathy had the 2 kids to deal with so she asked if he could put it in a box for her. He said "yeah, if he had a refrigerator box" sarcastically. Many people exaggerate the size of animals, but this guy did not. Seems he was driving on the parkway about a 1/2 mile from where she was originally picked up by us back in 12/08 (Captree State Park, 20 miles south of the release spot in Smithtown), when he saw this soaking wet bird that looked in trouble. He had nothing in his car but a robe [...] which he threw over her and put her in his trunk. Cathy got to his house, opens the garage door and hears crashing around inside the dimly lit room. It was only after she opened the door cautiously about a foot off the ground that she saw a blue band on the leg, which the guy never mentioned, and she immediately knew who it was. She called me at work screaming "it's the eagle, it's the eagle". I thought she was messing with me. [...]

She survived once again, reverting back to her old ways grubbing fish from fishermen who threw food to her at the beach. She’s back here like she never left, sad to say, but happy she wasn't found dead or worse, not found at all. Her future is uncertain for now. Obviously, we want the best for her, but how many lives can one silly eagle possibly have? We thought about when we released her the first time, that she had spent more than twice the time of her short life in captivity than in the wild. She had, perhaps, 5 months time out of the nest and 11 in a cage. That doesn't help her odds, but doesn't make it impossible, either. This is where the argument I believe evolves from that rehabbing doesn't work and we're messing with mother nature by assisting birds that were predisposed not to survive, but I won't even open that can of worms here. [...]

Bobby

Note:
I just discovered that Howard Stern has a posting with photo on his website about the Saw-whet Owl that his wife rescued.
...Read more

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Navy Special OWL

My brother-in-law is an aerospace engineer and does consulting work for the military. He came across a story about a special visitor to one of the Navy's aircraft carriers and emailed me a link.

The following is from the Official Website of the United States Navy:

"Aviation Boatswain's Mate Handling 3rd Class Alex Dieringer holds "Fod," a screech owl that was found on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)."

"080317-N-2017K-001 PERSIAN GULF (March 17, 2008) Aviation Boatswain's Mate Handling 3rd Class Alex Dieringer holds "Fod," a screech owl that was found on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The owl was discovered in the left-main wheel well of an F/A 18 Hornet during a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft during flight operations aboard the carrier. Truman and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 are deployed supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and maritime security operations. U.S. Navy photo by Aviation Structural Mechanic (Equipment) 2nd Class Shanon Kollmar (Released)."

I've heard that some owls can be very tame, but this is ridiculous! I wonder how long this little one had been hanging around the aircraft carrier before he was discovered. The USS Harry S. Truman is 1,096 feet long, 251 feet at its widest point and 20 stories high from waterline to masts. It is, essentially, a floating island, so I'm guessing that a Screech Owl could probably survive for a long time hanging around aboard ship...and from the looks of it, he seems pretty content. I wonder if they interrogated him after he was discovered, you know, just to make sure he wasn't a spy. Also, what is the significance of the name "Fod"?
...Read more

Monday, October 26, 2009

Raining Sparrows

Saturday was another perfect example of "the worst weather bringing the best birds". While most "normal" people probably spent the day indoors, myself and other birders toiled in periodic rain showers with the hope of finding some interesting birds. For some of us, the effort paid off with big dividends.

In Prospect Park, despite gray, wet weather, several of us found what can only be described as an outrageous assortment of sparrows. I should point out that it wasn't just the unusual diversity, but also the relatively small area in which they were located. As I mentioned in a previous posting about the Lark Sparrow, a section of the Long Meadow near the baseball fields has been fenced off for reseeding. It is roughly a rectangular area 100 yards by 80 yards. Adjacent to that is a very small wildflower meadow. Large numbers of mostly Chipping, Savannah and Song Sparrows have been feeding in the fenced off area. When alarmed by hawks, helicopters or humans, they'd flush and mostly fly to the wildflower meadow or a pair of large Linden Trees at the edge of the field. At the wildflower meadow there have also been many Swamp, White-throated and one or two White-crowned Sparrows. About 200-300 yards to the north on the Long Meadow is a small area that the regular birders refer to as the "Sparrow Bowl". It was around that very restricted area of Prospect Park where a group of us spent a few hours searching and discovering some amazing birds.

It all began when my friend Peter texted me at around 10am that there was a Vesper Sparrow near the baseball fields. I rode over on my bike and got there fast. It didn't take very long to relocate the bird, which ultimately flew to the opposite side of the field (of course). I found it again, but when it began to rain, I put down my bins so I could pull up my hood. Naturally, the bird vanished. As Peter, another birding friend Mary and I scanned the grass field I stumbled on a Nelson's Sparrow whose head was barely poking up above the grass. Nelson's are not typically found in the middle of a grass meadow. They are marsh birds that spend most of their time in wetland habitats. Peter called our friend Steve to see if he could come over and take a photo. Steve got there quickly but stopped briefly at the wildflower meadow across the sidewalk from us. He promptly spotted a Clay-colored Sparrow, another NYC rarity. There was a birding group from the Audubon Nature Center passing by, so a lot of folks were lucky enough to see it. The rain then started coming down much harder so I left to go home and get some lunch. I had just finished eating when Mary called saying that she and Peter found a Saltmarsh Sparrow at the "Sparrow Bowl". Like the similar Nelson's Sparrow, this is another bird that is almost exclusively found within coastal wetlands. I hopped back on my bike, got to the park and was riding across the grass towards the Sparrow Bowl where I saw Peter and Mary walking away, back towards the baseball fields. They turned around and we quickly refound the sparrow where it was casually eating smartweed at the edge of the grass. I've seen this sparrow many times before, but it seemed extremely odd watching it in the middle of Prospect Park and not, for example, at Plum Beach. In all, we tallied a amazing 13 species of sparrow in Prospect Park. In keeping with the marsh theme (I suppose), there was also a Marsh Wren at the edge of Prospect Lake which I tracked down just prior to a deluge which sent me home for good.

On Sunday, Shane and I went to Staten Island before dawn to look for a Cackling Goose (another rarity). It was beautiful Autumn weather and I spent more time enjoying the landscape than scouring the habitats for birds. I guess I was still reveling in the previous day's discoveries and didn't feel compelled to pressure the birding Gods for more gifts. We did end the morning, however, after spending about 30 minutes studying a pair of very tiny "Canada" geese at Mt. Loretto.

...Read more

Upcoming Trips

Below is a list of upcoming local trips for the weekend of October 31st - November 1st, 2009:

Brooklyn Bird Club
Saturday, October 31st, 2009
Birding Haunts at the Rockaway Inlet
Leaders: Bob Gochfeld and Shane Blodgett
Focus: sparrows, coastal species, raptors, waterbirds
Car Fee: $12.00
Registrar: Janet Schumacher, Email janets33@optonline.net or 718-941-4210
Registration period: October 20th - October 29th


Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
Saturday, October 31, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The Birds of Buck’s Hollow
We will enter the woodlands of the Greenbelt from the Meisner Avenue Trail, down from the Eger Nursing Home off Rockland Avenue. Our target birds will be woodland species in and around the swamp. These trails can be very wet, so please wear appropriate shoes for the muddy conditions. At this time of year woodpeckers, titmice and wintering sparrows are present in the forest. Binoculars are a must.
We park and meet on the hill just off Meisner Avenue.
Call Howie at 718-981-4002 for more information.

Saturday, October 31, 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Annual Protectors’ famous Staten Island 10 mile Greenbelt Fall Walk
(including a walk up Mt Moses after lunch for fall color panorama)
Colors should be at peak with some contrasting greens. Wear comfortable boots and long pants. Ten moderate miles, circular. We go in all weather but distance is shortened if pollution levels are high. Park and meet at the end of Staten Island Boulevard, a block off Ocean Terrace, just above the Sunnyside campus of the Petrides Complex. Bring lunch and adequate beverage. We often have four experienced naturalist leaders to interpret what we find, including Chuck, Dominick, Don and Sandra.
For more information phone Dominick at 917-478-7607.


Urban Park Rangers
Saturday, October 31, 2009

Early Birding
8:00 a.m.
Learn everything you need to know about birds with the Rangers.
Location: Marine Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Halloween Creepy Crawlies
12:00 p.m.
Discover everything you wanted to know about insects, spiders, and other creepy…
Location: Marine Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fall Colors
11:00 a.m.
Marvel at the colors of fall in one of the city's premier urban parks. We'll identify…
Location: Clove Lakes Park, Staten Island
Cost: Free

Fall Foliage
12:00 p.m.
"Hue" should definitely experience the color palette of this beautiful wooded park.
Location: Kissena Park, Queens
Cost: Free

Truths and Myths of Creepy Crawlers Creatures
12:30 p.m.
Learn the truths and myths of animals which spark our primal fears. Dare to touch one…
Location: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Exploring the Marsh in Autumn
1:00 p.m.
Autumn is in full swing. Take a nature hike and discover the changes happening as…
Location: Marine Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Fall Foliage
2:00 p.m.
Explore the colors of autumn with a walk through the woods of our park as we identify trees…
Location: Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
Cost: Free
...Read more

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sparrow Migration

In New York City the fall migration can be divided into two periods; early-fall, which ranges from mid-July through mid-September and late-fall, mid-September through November. During this very protracted period of movement there are relatively predictable cycles of bird families arriving in and departing from NYC.

Shorebirds are the earliest to arrive, with a few warblers and other songbirds making their appearance by the end of July. In August flocks of swallows stream past and southbound warblers increase in abundance. By September our coastal areas see a nice mix of migrant waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, terns and, of course, raptors. Within our backyards and city parks a diversity of flycatchers, vireos, kinglets, thrushes, warblers, sparrows and blackbirds appear. Some species call New York City their winter home. With the arrival of Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches and some sparrow species, winter is definitely creeping up on us.

Over the last week I've pedaled to Jacob Riis Park, Fort Tilden and Floyd Bennett Field a couple of times in search of sparrows. To the uninitiated, it may sound silly spending any amount of time looking for "little brown birds", but there is a surprising amount of diversity among sparrows and some are downright beautiful.

At Jacob Riis Park I concentrated on finding sparrows at the small field bordering the golf course and handball courts. There's also some nice grassy habitat at the park's main promenade. Until recently, Chipping Sparrows have been the most abundant species. Now White-throated Sparrows are flooding into the area. At Riis Park I tallied Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. Next door, at Fort Tilden I spent time scanning the grass at the back of the football fields, at the community gardens and the scrubby habitat behind the baseball fields. There were lots of Savannah Sparrows, but I also picked up Lincoln's Sparrow and Field Sparrow. Back across the bridge to Floyd Bennett Field, I looked for sparrows at the community gardens, the cricket field and the berm near the North 40. My biggest surprise was finding several White-crowned Sparrows. In the area where I had located a Lark Sparrow last month I spotted six white-crowneds perched in an ailanthus tree. I had already seen three at the gardens bringing my day total to nine; the most I've ever seen in one day in NYC.

Here's a slideshow of some of the sparrow species we've been seeing:



In Prospect Park a large section of the baseball fields has been fenced off while the grass is reseeded. The protective snow fencing has given the migrating birds a bit of security and there have been large numbers of Chipping, Savannah, Song and White-throated Sparrows feeding in the grass. I also spotted an Eastern Bluebird hanging around within the videofenced area. Last Sunday I texted my friend Peter as there were thousands of sparrows in the park, but the inclement weather had kept all the birdwatchers away. Within a few minutes of Peter arriving at the baseball fields he spotted a rare Lark Sparrow among the more common visitors. It hung around the area for most of the week. At one point earlier in the week I went back into the park with my friend, Heydi, to try to help her locate the Lark Sparrow. We found it pretty quickly and the bird was very cooperative, giving great looks. The bluebird was also still present so I decided to shoot a little video as it would frequently perch out in the open. It wasn't until I got home and looked at the video clips on my computer screen that I realize I got two for the price of one. While I was focused on the bluebird, the Lark Sparrow flew into the frame and perched on the temporary fencing. Here's a freeze frame from the video which clearly shows the Lark Sparrow's unique white tail feathers.

While millions of sparrows are moving through our area, unfortunately for the little things, so are lots of predators. On my last ride to the coast my raptor list consisted of Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and all three expected falcon - American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. Of the falcons I think Merlins are my favorite. They are small, fast and pugnacious. It's not unusual to see one of these Blue Jay-sized falcons harassing a Red-tailed Hawk, a raptor that is, on average, five times more massive. In Prospect Park a Merlin has been hanging around the baseball field, attracted by the numerous sparrows. There has also been at least two in Green-Wood Cemetery. Floyd Bennett Field video has at least one and I have also been seeing two patrolling Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park. The last time I visited Jacob Riis Park I saw a male Merlin chasing after flock of Northern Flickers who were feeding on open stretches of grass. Then, by chance, I saw one successful hunt down an unwary Dark-eyed Junco. I shot this video as he plucked the sparrow from a perch next to the golf course. I felt a bit sorry for the sparrow, but realize that falcon's are very efficient killers and that the little bird probably never saw him coming and likely didn't feel a thing. ...Read more

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marmota monax

I've been hearing rumors of groundhogs living in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Recently I decided to mount my Wingscapes birdcam next to one of the presumed groundhog dens and leave it there for a few days.

The den is on a steep hillside near the monument for Horace Greeley. Lately, when I'm birding in Green-Wood, I take a detour to the den but never spot any of its inhabitants. There is clearly a trail through the wooded hillside to the den. I picture a chubby groundhog waddling back and forth through the leaf litter, its belly sweeping a clearing as it comes and goes. One time I noticed some fresh cut flowers near the entrance to the den. Apparently, after a recent interment, the groundhog stole one of the arrangements and dragged it back to his or her den. I'm not sure if it was going to use them for a salad or to brighten up its bedroom.

On my way out of the cemetery, I stopped near an area where the landscape crew stores clean fill, rocks and boulders. Marge, as well as, some of the workers have seen a groundhog in that area. I looked around for any trails or dens, didn't find any, but noticed a curious opening at the bottom of the door to a storage facility. It looked as if an animal had been going in and out, plus, there were little footprints in the dirt. I took out my camera, turned the flash on manual and blindly snapped a bunch of photos through the hole beneath the door. This is what my camera caught in the darkness:


Cute little thing. I'm pretty certain that Green-Wood Cemetery is the only location in Brooklyn where groundhogs a.k.a. woodchucks, whistle-pigs or land beavers still exist. BTW - the only thing my Wingscapes Birdcam manage to capture was a squirrel. I think I should start calling it my Squirrelcam as that's all it has ever photographed.
...Read more

Monday, October 19, 2009

Upcoming Trips

Below is a list of upcoming local trips for the weekend of October 24th - 25th, 2009:

American Littoral Society
Saturday, October 24, 2009
NYC Audubon Butterfly and Bird Walk at Plum Beach
Meet at the Plum Beach Round House off the Belt Parkway at the Plum Beach parking lot at 9:30 AM walk begins at 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.
Call NYC Audubon to reserve at (212) 691-7483.
Leaders: Andrew Baksh and Don Riepe.


New York City Audubon Society
Wednesday, October 21, 6:30 - 8pm (class)
Sunday, October 25, 9am - noon (trip)

Sparrow Identification Workshop
Instructor: Gabriel Willow
Sparrows are one of the most challenging groups of birds to identify, and are often overlooked compared with their showier cousins such as tanagers and warblers. But they are subtly beautiful and fascinating species, especially once they can be distinguished. Learn to identify all those LBJs (little brown jobs). You might be surprised what you'll discover: was that a Swamp Sparrow hopping among the House Sparrows in the park? Learn their behavior, field-marks, songs, and more in this class. Followed by a field session in Central Park to seek out the underappreciated but fascinating sparrows. Limited to 15.
$45 ($40.50 for NYC Audubon members at the Senior/Student level and up)


Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
Saturday, October 24, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Mount Loretto
Come join Howie Fischer to find late migrant birds in the meadows and wetlands of Mount Loretto. Binoculars are necessary, along with comfortable walking shoes. At this time of year there may be some lingering sparrows and we hope to find some raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harrier. Waterfowl may be arriving in the ponds with cooler weather setting in. We’ll meet in the Unique Area parking lot opposite the CYO Bldg of Mt Loretto.
Call Howie at 718-981-4002 for details.

Saturday, October 24, 10 a.m. to 12 noon
Long Pond Park
Our newest undeveloped park—We will look for evidence of animal life, especially deer, raccoons and other mammals as the winter approaches in the woodlands surrounding Long Pond. We’ll also examine the bird life, geology and evidence of past human use of the area during this unhurried stroll through about one and a half miles of the park. Meet at PS 6, on Page and Academy Avenues about 3 blocks NW of Hylan Blvd.
For more information phone Clay Wollney at 718-869-6327.

Sunday, October 25, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Three and ½ mile walk: From the Greenbelt Recreation Center to Egbertville Ravine, then the Amundsen Trailway to Great Kills Park
Meet Sandra Mechanic at the Recreation Center parking lot, 411 Brielle Avenue, off Rockland Avenue. Wear sturdy shoes, bring lunch and beverages.
For more information, phone Sandra Mechanic at 718-967-1037.

Sunday, October 25, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Owl Prowl at Conference House Park
Welcome back Cliff Hagen who now has NYC Parks Department permission to conduct his owl walks in local Staten Island Parks. Meet in the Conference House Parking lot at the foot of Hylan Blvd. Follow Cliff along the trail where he stops momentarily to produce repeatedly, the call of a Common Screech Owl, a tremulous mournful whinny in high pitch. He then may mimic the Great Horned Owl’s call - four or five repetitions of a deep hoot sound, or the call of the Barred Owl, who is reported to say, “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all-l-l-l-l-l-l-l drifting into silence. Repeated calls have often resulted in a distant owl call in response. That responder may then fly to a branch overhead and continue responding to Cliff’s mimic call. Screech Owls come in two color phases, gray and brown. He once attracted one of each color phase on a Protectors’ walk.
For directions or more information call Cliff at 718-313-8591.


Queens County Bird Club
Saturday, October 24th, mini-field trip, 8:00am
Fort Tilden
Meet at Administration Building
Interesting birds can be found this time of year at Fort Tilden (think LeConte’s Sparrow, Dickcissel). With the right winds, there is excellent hawk watching. Or, just watch the birds forage in the community gardens and fields.
Trip Leader: George Dadone, 917-748-5716


Urban Park Rangers
Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nature Scavenger Hunt
1:00 p.m.
Fun for the whole family! Are you up to the challenge of finding some hidden treasures in…
Location: Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx
Cost: Free

Fall Nature Journaling Series (Part 3)
1:00 p.m.
Explore the last forest in Brooklyn as it undergoes fall foliage changes! We will be…
Location: Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ho, Ho, Ho, Green Giant
11:00 a.m.
Tulip trees are the tallest trees in NYC. Learn about the "Alley Giant,"…
Location: Alley Pond Park, Queens
Cost: Free

Creepy Crawlers Creatures Crafts
11:00 a.m.
Learn truths and myths about the animals which spark our primal fears, then create your own…
Location: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Forever Wild Hike! Hunter Island Hike
1:00 p.m.
Come learn about the history of Hunter Island with the Urban Park Rangers and enjoy some of…
Location: Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
Cost: Free

Autumn Splendor Walk
1:00 p.m.
Join us as we explore the blazing colors that the fall brings to this park.
Location: Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Creepy Crawlers Extravaganza: Creepy Crawlers Critters
1:00 p.m.
They creep, they crawl, and some of them hide in holes. They have six legs, three…
Location: Blue Heron Park Preserve, Staten Island
Cost: Free

Creatures of the Night
7:00 p.m.
When the sun goes down, they get up. From little brown myosis, to the big gray Procyon…
Location: Central Park, Manhattan
Cost: Free
...Read more

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Links

Here is a good link to all the nature centers in New York City's parks. The page divides them by borough.

Another, not so new, resource is the New York State Birding list. I've been a subscriber for a long time but just got around to adding to my sidebar of links.

If you ever have ID questions about insects, Bugguide.net is your best bet.

Most people are unaware that former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson was a huge advocate for preserving and protecting North America's native plants and natural landscapes. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great resource for wildflower identification and other information.

Close-up Hummingbirds

Over the past week an unusual hummingbird has been seen in a Staten Island backyard. You might remember my postings about one of these "selasphorus" hummingbirds on Long Island in late-2006. I'm not sure if this week's bird has been conclusively identified because there are two species that are very similar - the Allen's Hummingbird and the Rufous Hummingbird.

Separating these two species can be difficult because it involves, among other field marks, very close inspection of the tail feathers. This article describes the differences. Anyway, I found a product that would make close inspection a snap. It begs the question, "Why wasn't the Wearable Hummingbird Feeder invented sooner?!"

...Read more

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Transition

I love living in a place where I can observe profound seasonal changes. During the summer my energy levels are at their apex. It used to disturb me when autumn rolled around and things seemed to slow to a crawl. As a birder, however, I find it fascinating watching some animals increasing their activities, just when many of us humans are considering hibernation.

I'm still taking regular bike rides to Jacob Riis Park, but I've given up on swimming in the ocean. At one point, I had the silly notion that I'd be able to swim until November. My last plunge was on September 20th and I don't think I'll be jumping back in any time soon. I took a ride out on October 4th and a strange, warm haze blanketed the entire beach. The water, sand and sky merged into a horizonless, abstract image. I could hear birds along the coast, I just couldn't see them. Anyone foolish enough to go swimming would have had a difficult time figuring out which direction was Queens and which was Bermuda.

I guess some changes are inevitable so, with some ambivalence, I said "Goodbye" to summer and packed my beach gear away until next year. Earlier in the season we had some ridiculously warm weather, so I was able to continue wearing my Tevas while I watched the warblers and other neotropic songbirds waving goodbye to NYC as they moved on south. Although I haven't posted much over the last two months, I have been able to get out and do some local birding. In late September I took a trip out to the Ridgewood Reservoir with my friend Heydi. There were still a decent number of warblers moving through the area and sparrows were just beginning to arrive. The highlight of the day was finding a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. It was the first time I'd ever seen one outside of a field guide. The caterpillar's black, green and orange markings were even more vivid in life than the photographs were able to capture. Also, I felt compelled to touch the fat little thing and can report that it was very much like squeezing a marshmallow.

During my hazy Riis Park trip I also walked through an undeveloped area of Fort Tilden, behind the baseball fields. It is usually a good spot to find birds, but on that particular day, it was better for insects. The dried seedpods of dozen of Milkweed plants were crawling with Milkweed bugs. I guess, like everything else in this world, it was the timing. A week later and the black and red insects were all gone. Like other creatures in nature, the black and red colors are meant to warn potential predators to stay away. Milkweed bugs feed on the Milkweed plant and compounds found in the sap are concentrated in the body of the insect and make them taste bad to birds and other animals. I'm not certain if they are actually poisonous.

The fall migration progresses in a fairly predictable series of stages. Early in the season insects are still abundant as the temperature is still relatively warm and days are still pretty long. During this period mostly insectivores are moving through NYC. Swifts, flycatchers, vireos, swallows and wood-warblers. A little later on, as it gets cooler, bird that eat fruits and seeds begin to replace the insect eaters. In addition, waterfowl that overwinter in NYC begin to arrive along the coast and at inland lakes and ponds. It should also be noted that the predators (hawks and falcons) have been following these birds since the beginning of the migration. Within the last week to ten days sparrows have started working their way through the city. First were large flocks of Chipping Sparrows, then Song and Swamp Sparrows, finally, a tremendous number of White-throated Sparrows have appeared along the wooded stretches within all our parks. I took a long ride earlier in the week, just to find sparrows, but I'll save that for a sparrow-specific posting.

Last Saturday I went birding in Green-Wood Cemetery. I've been exploring the tops of the ridges, trying to figure out a good birding route along the cemetery's high points. There were birds everywhere, especially Chipping Sparrows and Palm Warblers. Flowering Dogwoods were loaded with ripe fruits and the robins and flickers were all jostling for prime feeding perches. I also spotted a few Baltimore Orioles and several Scarlet Tanagers. At this time of year Scarlet Tanagers are no longer scarlet. Their wings and tail are still black, but the head and upper parts are olive green and the lower part of the body is yellow. I suppose the first scientists to observe the Scarlet Tanager saw it in winter (basic) plumage because they gave it the specific name "olivacea". I was walking up a ridge opposite Horace Greeley's monument when I spotted a dead Scarlet Tanager in the grass. The bird seemed to have died very recently and there were no noticeably signs of trauma. It hadn't completely molted its scarlet plumage and there were scattered red feathers on its breast, belly, undertail coverts, flanks and rump. I felt bad because he nearly made it through the year.

Marge and I spotted a massive Cooper's Hawk flying around the cemetery tormenting the flicker flocks. This large accipiter was almost as large as the resident Red-tailed Hawks and was clearly targeting the yellow woodpeckers. The vocalizations that I normally hear flickers making sounds like a loud, "wika, wika, wika" or, "klee-yer". Whenever the Cooper's Hawk made a dive towards a flock some would made a noise that sounded more like a panicked screech. I haven't found that vocalization described in any of my field guides. Anyway, as we were walking the ridge above the Historic Chapel I spotted the remains of one of the Cooper's Hawk's meals - a Northern Flicker wing. Strange that there was only one wing.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Upcoming trips

Below is a list of upcoming local trips for the weekend of October 17th - 18th, 2009:

The Linnaean Society of New York
Sunday, October 18th, 2009
Staten Island Sites
Leader: Howard Fischer
Registrar: Louise Fraza (louisefraza@yahoo.com)
Registration opens Monday 10/5.
Ride: $20.


New York City Audubon Society
Saturday, October 17, 10 - 11:30am
Birds and History of Fort Greene Park
With City of New York, Department of Parks and Recreation, Urban Park Rangers
Guide: Urban Park Rangers
Meet at the Ft. Greene Visitor Center, located inside the park on top of the hill near the entrance on Dekalb Avenue and Washington Park. Join the Urgan Park Rangers and learn about Fort Greene's rich history and discover which birds call it home. Limited to 25. Free.
Note: Washington park is the name of the actual street, not Washington park street or Washington park ave, as there are streets with those name.

Sunday, October 18, 9:30 - 11:30am
NYC Audubon at Wave Hill
Guides: Gabriel Willow
Meet at the Perkins Visitor Center and learn about bird species found in the area and their interconnectedness with the natural world on these captivating yet peaceful walks. Wave Hill’s garden setting overlooking the Hudson River flyway provides the perfect habitat for native and migrating birds. Ages 8 and up welcome with an adult. Limited to 25.
$10
Registration not required. Inclement weather cancels; call 718.549.3200 x245 by 8am the day of the session to confirm.


Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
Saturday, October 17, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve: Pine Barren Trees and Wildlife
Find out why Protectors urged the preservation of this parkland and how we got our name in 1975. It has rare Southern pine and oak trees, nothing like our Greenbelt forest. With a park permit, Sandra will lead us into the restricted area where few have trod. We will check in the sand or mud for deer prints throughout the park. We’ll find the diseased clones of the American Chestnut that has produced flowers and fruit the past few years and the healthy 7 to 8 inch diameter chestnut tree, now 20+ feet tall and 9 to 10 inches in diameter and still disease free. The normal trunk-splitting at the base is not indicative of chestnut blight unless a fungus growth is observed.
Meet at the old park office building at the end of Carlin Avenue, off Sharrotts Road in Rossville. Wear waterproof shoes.
Call Sandra Mechanic at 718-967-1037 for more information.

Saturday, October 17, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Page Avenue Beach at low tide
We’ll begin with a look at the local geology then move to examining the flotsam and jetsam accumulated at the high tide lines to see what nature’s debris has to tell us. As the water recedes with the tide we’ll move into the intertidal zone to find out what sorts of living things survive in this challenging environment. A variety of crabs, snails, clams, worms and small fish are likely to be discovered. We will return them to their natural homes. It’s going to be muddy so dress appropriately.
Meet at the parking lot at the bottom of Page Avenue below Hylan Blvd.
For more information phone Clay Wollney at 718-869-6327.

Sunday, October 18, 10 a.m. to 12 noon
Clay Pit Ponds State Park/Preserve
Take a walk with Cathy Zelonis through this rarely visited park to find the trees that match the leaves we find on the ground, some of which you will never find in our Greenbelt or other parks. Look for fruits left on trees and shrubs for animals’ food. Find out how Protectors of Pine Oak Woods got its name in 1975 by helping to save this mini pine barrens. Bring water, and dress for the weather.
Meet at the parking lot at the end of Carlin Ave. off Sharrotts Road in Rossville.
For more information call Cathy at 917-596-4198.

Sunday, October 18, 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Willowbrook Park: Gateway to the Greenbelt
This is a beautiful walk along the white trail to the Nature Center and back, starting at the Willowbrook Park archery field. If you don’t know Willowbrook Park, you are in for a surprise. Rich woodlands, streams and lush fernbeds await your discover. See the results of habitat restoration through mitigation, not a bad job! Willowbrook Park entrance is on Victory Blvd. by the College of Staten Island and is accessible via public transportation. Bring beverage and snacks. Walking will be wet in spots.
Call walk leader, Hillel Lofaso for more details at (718) 751-6629.


Urban Park Rangers
Saturday, October 17, 2009

Early Morning Birding
8:00 a.m.
Learn everything you need to know about birds with the Rangers.
Location: Marine Park, Manhattan
Cost: Free

Birds and History of Fort Greene Park
10:00 a.m.
Join the Urban Park Rangers & NYC Audubon and learn about Fort Greene's rich history as…
Location: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Hawk Watch
10:00 a.m.
Take a hike up Moses Mountain to a wonderful viewing area at the top. Catch a glimpse…
Location: High Rock Park, Staten Island
Cost: Free

Cass Gallagher Hike
11:00 a.m.
The sky is blue, the air is crisp, and a soft breeze rustles through the last leaves. No…
Location: Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx
Cost: Free

Creepy Crawlers Extravaganza: Gone Batty
6:00 p.m.
Experience how bats search for food in the twilight hours. We'll identify bats and…
Location: Bloomingdale Park, Staten Island
Cost: Free

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Canoeing the Creek
10:00 a.m.
Enjoy this womderful route through the tidal waters of Lemon Creek. You'll see egrets,…
Location: Lemon Creek Park, Staten Island
Cost: Free

Fall Migration
11:00 a.m.
It’s that time of year again, when many birds head south in preparation for the…
Location: Broad Channel American Park, Queens
Cost: Free

Fall Warbler Watch
12:00 p.m.
Sharpen up those birding skills on a birding walk designed to spot the colorful and elusive…
Location: Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
Cost: Free

Canoeing the Creek
1:00 p.m.
Enjoy this womderful route through the tidal waters of Lemon Creek. You'll see egrets,…
Location: Lemon Creek Park, Staten Island
Cost: Free
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Harassed Hawk

The Denver Post just ran a story about local hawks being harassed by Western Kingbirds. It was accompanied by a great photo of a kingbird riding on the back of a Red-tailed Hawk while pecking the raptor's head.

Here's their story:

"Awesome" photo a hit for Westminster birder
By Howard Pankratz
The Denver Post

Pat Gaines actually felt sorry for the red-tailed hawks at Bonny Lake State Park this summer.

Despite their aggressive reputation, loud screams and fierce, piercing looks, the red-tailed hawks at the park north of Burlington, just west of the Colorado-Kansas border, were being bullied when Gaines saw them.

"I've never seen red-tails harassed so much. They all seemed hoarse. I felt kind of sorry for them," said Gaines of the sight of dozens of little birds dive-bombing the hawks.

The hawks were minding their own business, Gaines recalled.

But the western kingbirds at the park were upset.

Highly territorial, the kingbirds felt the hawks were intruding on their space, said Gaines, a Westminster scientist who helps develop vaccines and tests used in veterinary medicine.

Gaines had focused his camera on one red-tailed hawk because the bird had been screaming. As he followed the hawk across the sky, a kingbird dive-bombed the hawk.

The hawk, which is not a predator of the kingbird, flew as fast as it could from the kingbird. For a moment it appeared the kingbird had stopped attacking. But then it began the pursuit again and — to Gaines amazement — landed on the hapless red-tail's back.

"He rode the hawk for 25 yards. The hawk was not trying to fight back — it was just trying to get out of there," said Gaines.

As the kingbird rode bareback on the hawk, it pecked away at the hawk's head.

"They (the kingbirds) are not afraid of anything," said Gaines. "Until this happened, I had never seen one perch on a hawk's back."

Gaines posted his photo at the Colorado Birder website last month, where he is a frequent contributor.

Other sites, including some in the United Kingdom, have picked up the photo.

The comment posted by Colorado Birder Sarah E sums up the reaction to the image: "Awesome photo!"
...Read more

Monday, October 05, 2009

Upcoming Trips

Below is a list of upcoming local trips for the weekend of October 10th - 11th, 2009:

Brooklyn Bird Club
Saturday, October 10th, 2009
Celebrate the BBC Centennial in Prospect Park series
Meet 8am at Grand Army Plaza's park entrance.
Leader: Tom Stephenson
Focus: fall passerines peak, sparrows, early winter species, and raptors


Linnaean Society of New York
Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Fort Tilden
Leader: Starr Saphir
Registrar: Lenore Swenson
Registration opens Monday 9/28. Ride: $15.


New York City Audubon Society
Saturday, October 10th, 2009, 3 - 5pm
Fall Migration of Van Cortlandt Park/Birds and History of Van Cortlandt
Guide: Gabriel Willow
Meet at the last stop on the 1 train, 242nd Street, park side. Explore this park and learn of its historical legacy while spotting migratory warblers, tanagers and other song birds along its scenic pathways, wetlands and ancient native forests. Limited to 20.
Cost: $20


Protectors of Pine Oak Woods
Saturday, October 10th, 2009, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Conference House Park
Come join Howie Fischer to find migrant birds in the woods and open parkland in Conference House Park. This park has been called “Staten Island’s Little Cape May”, in that it is geographically situated where birds find suitable feeding and resting habitats prior to moving over a body of water such as Raritan Bay in fall. Surprises always show up and the number of birds, including hard-to-find species, can be quite rewarding if conditions are right such as winds and cold fronts.
Meet in the parking lot at the very end of Hylan Blvd.
For more information, call Howie at 718-981-4002.

Saturday, October 10, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Mt. Loretto and Beyond: North Mount Loretto Woods
This is a great new purchase by New York State DEC. Explore these beautiful woodlands’ extensive American Beech, Oak, Sweet Gum forest with naturalist & photographer Sandra Mechanic.
Meet at the corner of Bartow and Richard Avenues off Hylan Blvd across from Mt. Loretto Unique Area. Bring lunch and beverages.
For more information, phone Sandra Mechanic at 718-967-1037.

Saturday, October 17, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
It’s My Park Day
For our 160th monthly Forest Restoration workshop, meet at the Administration Building at High Rock Park (follow the road into the park from the top of Nevada Avenue) to join with other volunteers taking part in It’s My Park Day. New York City parks depend heavily on volunteers to keep their many acres planted and clean. As the “Borough of Parks” we have more to take care of than the others, and are proud of it! NY Environmental Fund (and Protectors) will provide gloves and equipment.
Contact Don Recklies at 718-768-9036 or High Rock Park at 718-667-2165 for more information.


Queens County Bird Club
Sunday, October 11th, 2009, 7:30 am
Mini trip - Kissena Park
Meet: Velodrome
Leader: Eric Miller


Staten Island Museum
October 11, 2009 (9:00am - 11:00am)
Weekend Ecology Walk: Lenape and Winter Field Birds
Meet in the DEC parking lot across from CYO Center on Hylan Blvd.
Free monthly walks! Enjoy the beauty and ecology of Staten Island. Wear comfortable shoes and bring binoculars if possible.
To register and confirm meeting places call Seth Wollney at (718) 483-7105.

October 11, 2009 (12:00 pm)
Dragonfly Workshop at Great Kills Park
Meet at the Bath House parking lot for a walk out to Crooke's Point.
To learn more about the Staten Island Dragonfly Atlas visit www.birdingonstatenisland.com/SIDragonfly or call Seth Wollney at (718) 483-7110.


Urban Park Rangers
Saturday, October 10, 2009

Early Morning Birding
8:00 a.m.
Learn everything you need to know about birds with the Rangers.
Location: Marine Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Wildflower Walk
11:00 a.m.
Before the first frost of fall begin to settle over the Bronx, the asters and goldenrod…
Location: Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx
Cost: Free

Fall Nature Journaling Series (Part 2)
1:00 p.m.
Explore the last forest in Brooklyn as it undergoes fall foliage changes! We will be paying…
Location: Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Warbler Watch
9:00 a.m.
Join the Rangers for a front row seat as we observe the fall migration.
Location: Forest Park, Queens
Cost: Free

Canoeing the Lagoon
11:00 a.m.
Join the Rangers on this easy adventure paddle through the sparkling blue waters and…
Location: Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
Cost: Free

Creepy Crawlers Extravaganza: Spooky Spiders
1:00 p.m.
With eight eyes staring back at you and menacing fangs, spiders can be intimidating. They…
Location: Blue Heron Park Preserve, Staten Island
Cost: Free

Who, Who, Who….Did I Eat?
1:00 p.m.
Come and discover what owls eat as we dissect owl pellets.
Location: Marine Park, Brooklyn
Cost: Free
...Read more

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hungry Hawk

When we were children, my mother would say "your eyes are bigger than your stomach" if we filled our plates with too much food. Today I saw a hawk do something that brought to mind that expression.

I ran into Keir Randall at the north end of the Midwood late in the morning. We compared our songbird observations for the day then Keir asked me about my experience with Northern Goshawks. I've never seen an adult goshawk (which is unmistakable for any other raptor as it is all gray), but in 2007 was fortunate enough to get several good looks at a juvenile in Prospect Park. Juvenile Northern Goshawks are similar to juvenile Cooper's Hawks, but with good views are easily separated. The reason he asked was because he had brief looks of a very large accipiter on Lookout Hill that he thought could have been a goshawk. I shared with him the little I remembered about head size & shape, tail size & markings, as well as, the extent & shape of the underside streaking. We continued in opposite directions through the park and I promptly forgot about his raptor sighting.

On Lookout Hill I crossed paths with John Ascher, his wife and a birder visiting from France. They hadn't observed many birds so I mentioned that Keir had seen a bit of activity at the south side of the lake, where I was headed. The four of us made our way around the Butterfly Meadow, the top of Lookout Hill, then down Lookout's southwest stairway to the lake. As we were walking down the small hillside by lamppost J249, a large raptor flew out over our heads towards the edge of the lake.

Near the start of Wellhouse Drive, a short stretch of Prospect Lake's shoreline has become the park's unofficial duck feeding spot. Dozens (if not hundreds) of people visit this place to feed the park's swans, Mallards, Canada Geese and assorted, weird hybrid waterfowl. There is so much traffic in this one location that the ground has been stripped bare of any plant life, the soil is compacted to the consistency of concrete and exposed tree roots have been polished to a fine furniture sheen by all the human and animal feet passing back and forth. The inevitable excess of bread and bread crumbs has also attracted an ever growing flock of pigeons. For years, the park's Red-tailed Hawks have been aware of this arrangement and can frequently be seen perched nearby or making passes at the unwary birds. Two weeks ago I also spotted a Peregrine Falcon attacking the pigeons. Which brings me to today's experience. As we walked towards the lake a large unidentified raptor flew over us, headed directly to the "duck feeding spot". Hoping to catch a glimpse of the hawk,
we all ran down to the edge of the lake. We got there in time to watch a large accipiter with a struggling pigeon in its talons attempting to fly across the lake. The raptor was pretty big, smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk but big enough to snag a Rock Pigeon. Unfortunately, it seemed to be laboring to gain altitude and keep from falling into the water. The pigeon dangling below the hawk was actually skimming along, inches above the surface of the lake. She ended up releasing the pigeon after a few seconds which, amazingly, flew off, seemingly unfazed. I followed the hawk in my bins to a perch at the edge of the lake across from the Wellhouse. John and I ran after her to get a better look, and to determine whether it was a young goshawk or a Cooper's Hawk. The raptor stayed at the perch for a few moments and we agreed that it was just a very large juvenile Cooper's Hawk, not a Northern Goshawk, but one who's eyes were clearly much larger than its stomach...or at least its wings.

Here are some links to accipiter information and identification:

Raptor Recovery
Bedford Audubon
Bill Thompson's "Identify Yourself"

With hawk migration still upon us, I recommend Pete Dunne's "Hawks in Flight". It has a great chapter on accipiter identification.
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