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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jones Beach & Long Beach

Shane and I drove out to the Jones Beach Coast Guard Station this morning hoping to locate a pair of Little Gulls that has been seen in the company of some Bonaparte’s Gulls. There was also a King Eider reported in the area. During our “Big Year” last year, the King Eider became Shane’s nemesis bird as he made 5 unsuccessful trips to Montauk, where one had been hanging around. We assumed that, since neither one of us were particularly pressed to locate one, it would probably be very easy.

The tide was high in the cove next to the Coast Guard Station and there was very little bird activity other than a huge flock of Brant and a few dozen American Oystercatchers. We decided to drive to Long Beach, on the west side of the Jones Inlet to check for gulls and Harlequin Ducks. For many years a flock of harlequins were regular winter visitors to the rock jetties at Long Beach, but have been MIA for a couple of years. I haven’t seen any in 2 years and I was really happy to learn that a flock of 4 have finally returned.

Instead of going straight to the inlet, we drove into the Hempstead Town beach parking lot at the end of Loop Drive to check the beaches west of Jones Inlet. As we were pulling into a parking space close to the beach, I spotted a Northern Harrier soaring low over the dunes. Once we were on the beach, we noticed that there was a very large flock of gulls about a mile west of us. It was a little far to walk, so we drove to the parking lot of the "Malibu" cabana club. About 250 yards west of the club's western-most beach access was a very large mixed flock of gulls. They were feeding either at the edge of the water or floating up and down behind the breakers a few yards off shore. The majority were Bonaparte's Gulls, of which there were approximately 800. I’m still a novice when it comes to gull identification, but Shane has the skills and patience to scan the mass of white, black and gray birds. After about 2 hours of searching through the flocks, we were pretty certain that the Little Gulls weren’t around and so we drove the short distance back to the inlet.

I quickly spotted 4 Harlequin Ducks in their favorite location near the northern end of the jetty at Mineola Avenue. Shane spotted the King Eider swimming in the northwest side of the channel. We tracked it for about 30 minutes as it moved across both sides of Jones Bay.

As we were leaving, we ran into Peter Sculley and told him about the large flock of gulls that we had scoured earlier in the day. After a few minutes we decided to go with him back to the beach and search through the gulls one more time. The large flock was still present, but we still couldn’t find any Little Gulls, but, as a consolation, we did find a Lesser Black-backed Gull feeding along the shore. Towards the end of the day another flock of Bonaparte's Gulls came in to roost a short distance offshore at the Hempstead Town beach.

Other highlights from the day was a White-crowned Sparrow along the median near the Coast Guard Station; a Lapland Longspur within a flock of Snow Buntings at the Malibu beach and a Red-necked Grebe in Jones Inlet.

Jones Beach & Long Beach, 12/26/2007
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe (107 on ocean in front of "Malibu" cabana club.)
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant
King Eider
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Fish Crow
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
American Tree Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

New York Botanical Garden Christmas Count

On Sunday, Shane Blodgett, Steve Nanz and I participated in the Bronx/Westchester CBC. Just as in the past 5 years, our territory was the New York Botanical Garden. I've always enjoyed covering the NYBG's 250 acres, especially because we get to walk around for 3 hours before it is opened to the public. Next to my very first Christmas Count in 1995, it was nearly the worst weather that I've experienced. It rained, pretty much, for the entire time we were outdoors. At least this year, as opposed to 1995, the temperature was above freezing. I don't, for the most part, mind being out in the rain, but when raindrops collect on my binocular's lenses it makes viewing a challenge. Whenever any of us noticed something of interest, we'd quickly wipe off our lenses then try to make the identification before a puddle formed around our bin's objective lens. At one point Shane and I started fantasizing about various wet weather inventions for birdwatchers. How about little, tiny windshield wipers for binoculars?

It was a good exercise for identification by "Jizz". We managed to tally a respectable day list. It was the Christmas Bird Count, but might have been called "The Christmas Raptor Count". We counted 5 Red-tailed Hawk, that were in all likelihood the Fordham University Rose Hill family (Hawkeye, Rose and kids), two Sharp-shinned Hawks, two Cooper's Hawks, a Long-eared Owl and a Great Horned Owl. In addition, when we were stopped at a traffic light at the corner of Jerome Avenue and East 213th St, I noticed a kestrel balanced on the tip of a very tall, PVC antenna. At first, I thought that it was just a component of the antenna. Then I noticed that it was pumping its tail as it tried to remain balanced on the swaying, white pole.

Finding the Long-eared Owl was a nice surprise as we've never encountered one in the botanical garden. Steve was walking several yards ahead of Shane and myself. I noticed some movement in a tangle of shrubs to his right. They were Blue Jays. Steve took a quick look and continued walking. When I approached the noisy birds, I stopped to looked for the object of their ire. I didn't notice anything right away, so I did my best impression of a screech owl (not very good) to try and call out any unseen birds in the tangle. Suddenly, from the dark grays and browns of the shrubs, a large head with gold eyes swiveled around and glared at me. It flew off towards the south. I was stunned that the owl was perched only two feet off the ground and about 12 feet away, yet its camouflaged plumage made it invisible until it moved. Steve came running back to try and photograph the bird. It disappeared from sight, but Steve walked quietly in the direction that it flew. Moments later we began hearing a loud "cak, cak, cak, cak, cak, cak". None of us had any idea what bird was making the noise. I followed the sound and tracked it to a juvenile Cooper's Hawk in a cluster of pines. I assumed that the Long-eared Owl was also in the pines and the hawk was trying to scare it off. Shane and I looked in the direction that the hawk was facing and found the owl trying to blend into the dense branches of the conifers. He wasn't successful and the hawk chased him off towards the native forest.

Finding the Great Horned Owl was a fluke of my laziness. Steve, Shane and I were walking in a section of woodlands when we encountered a downed tree across our path. Steve was ahead of me and I watched him struggle to duck under the large tree trunk. I couldn't be bothered, so instead began to look for a path around the obstacle. I chose the path of least resistance, which still had some patches of snow and was very muddy. I had my head down, watching my footing, when I noticed a large area of white splatters then looked directly above. Bent over and staring down at me was a Great Horned Owl. I chuckled and muttered to the owl, "So that's where you've been hiding", then motioned for Steve and Shane. I had actually carefully scanned that tree earlier in the morning and didn't see him.

When we were walking back to the garden's cafe for lunch, I spotted an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree at the top of a rise in the Rock Garden. The uniformly, dim, gray sky seemed like it was fractured into pointed stained glass plates by the tree's branches. The rounded hawk looked like an intentional spotlight in the artist's design.

Shane found the highlight of the day. The three of us had split up to walk the 50-acre native forest section of the garden. I heard Shane shout something unrecognizable and ran towards his voice. He was looking straight up into a River Birch and, without putting down his bins said, "Redpolls". During irruptive years I've seen as many as three at a time, but he had found a flock of 13 Common Redpolls feeding on the tiny cones in a cluster of River Birches. I watched them for a few seconds that ran off to find Steve, who had his camera. Normally, it wouldn't be very difficult to track someone down in the forest, but today there was a layer of fog drifting through the woodlands. We were probably slogging through the mud in opposite directions, but eventually figured it out and the three of us studied the rare NYC flock for about 30 minutes. Steve was struggling to photograph the birds as the lighting was terrible and the birds were high in the trees. At one point I noticed a flock of chickadees coming through the woods and turned to watch them. I started "spishing" to attract the chickadees when Steve shouted from behind me, "Don't stop!" Apparently, redpolls were also attracted to the noise and began to descend towards Steve. I don't think anybody truly knows why making the type of sound usually reserved for calling house cats to dinner, attracts birds. Some people are always able to attract birds in this manner. It doesn't usually work for me, but fortunately it did this time because it allowed Steve to take a very nice portrait of a redpoll.

Here's a link to Mike Bochnik's summary of the count.

Steve and Shane in the native forest of NYBG
by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

An Animal Christmas Story

Peace, Love & Understanding this Holiday Season and Year Long,

Rob "The City Birder"

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sick hawk in Park Slope

Yesterday I received an email from my friend, Christina, with a link to a Flickr webpage. A woman found a hawk standing on the sidewalk a few blocks away from where I live. The author of the webpage thought that it was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, but I'm certain that it's actually a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. Red-shouldered Hawks are usually rare around NYC in December, but in recent years seem to be reported on the annual Christmas Bird Count more frequently.

I was concerned about the poor thing and sent an email to Bobby Horvath, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who works with many of the injured raptors from NYC. Below is his response. I'll post some updates as soon as I know anything:

Hi Rob,

I've been busy picking up [juvenile] red-tails this season, 16 so far and mostly from Manhattan and the Bronx but not the one (?) in the picture. The last Brooklyn red-tail I know of for sure was back on 11/30 from Bristol St.

You're right it could be a red-shouldered. I've had a few and the [juveniles] have the distinct shoulder patch, which I couldn’t make out from that shot, but it does have the long stick-like legs. Many birds I receive from [Animal Medical Center], which provide excellent care and release to me for further care when they're ready. They just can't assess the bird’s flight ability from a small hospital cage, so if they were to attempt to release on their own, it might just hop skip away and not be retrievable once freed. Just yesterday I got another [juvenile] red-tailed from there, came from 192 St. and Bennet Ave in Washington Heights, and a [juvenile] Black-crowned Night Heron with a foot injury from Prospect Park. Unfortunately, I don't always get the intake info on the animal’s origins if a Good Samaritan doesn't leave that info. I just only know from which borough it came. The red-tail from Bronx I got after Thanksgiving from the NYPD did fine and was released. I try to return birds from nearby where found when possible, but this time of year with [juveniles], it’s a judgment call. First, if it isn't an accomplished hunter and just came in starving without an injury I sometimes winter them over. Chances are, after I fatten them up and the weather gets worse, it just may end up starving again and this time might not be found before too late.

The injured birds that can be assumed decent hunters can go back where found. They're not necessarily resident birds this time of the year. Some are migrants or else 16, so far, would account for a good chunk of all the resident yearlings and I doubt that’s the case. The city birds that have grown up on mostly pigeons and rats don't have the same opportunity out here on Long Island. Here it’s mostly rabbit, squirrel, and mice so it makes my release site decision a gamble either way. I recently got in a bird I banded and released out here. 8 days after release, about 10 miles from the site, someone actually witnessed it hit an aluminum street light pole. It did fine and I re-released him again hoping for the best this time. If anything interesting come in from your neck of the woods I’ll let you know.

I appreciate the site as always and have a nice holiday season as well.


If you ever encounter an injured hawk or any other bird, here is a website with some good advice.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

SoHo Red-tailed Hawk

I just received the following email and photos from a friend who works in SoHo.

From: Thomas Kozak
Date: December 21, 2007
Subject: FW: Bird Photos

Hey Rob, thought you'd enjoy these photos from my office at Broadway and Houston. Seems like at least one red-tailed is doing some last minute Xmas shopping in SoHo.

One of Tom's coworkers spotted the little thing sitting on the window ledge of their conference room. I'm not sure who actually took the photos, but if you let me know, I'll add credit below the images.

In the close-up photo, he (or she) is looking a bit bleary-eyed. I hope that it wasn't sick or injured and was just taking an afternoon snooze.

I recognized the location, 599 Broadway, as I had a client for many years in "The Cable Building" on the opposite side of Houston Street. I didn't think that there was enough green space for a resident hawk to hunt around that area, but a look at Google Earth showed several small parks around SoHo.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Bird Count & Holiday Thanks

Every December at this time, across the country (and now several other countries) birders are preparing for the world's most extensive nature survey - The Christmas Bird Count. I've been participating since 1995, except for 2002, when my arm was in a cast. Brooklyn's count was this past Saturday and I might have missed that one, too.

On Friday, I was putting on my coat and about to leave the house for an appointment when my cellphone rang. I didn't recognize the telephone number and considered letting it go to voicemail. When I picked up a woman on the other end said, "Is this Rob Jett, Robin's husband?" I replied, "What is this in reference to?" She repeated, "Is this Robin's husband?" "Who's calling please?" The voice at the other end of the line said, "There's been an accident." The bottom of my stomach dropped out. My mouth and throat were suddenly so dry that I could barely speak. The woman said in a very calm, reassuring voice that she had been hit by a taxi, but that she seemed OK. I wanted to run out the door, but knew it would be pointless. She was at the intersection of 57th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, I was in Brooklyn. I started to feel a little better when I heard Robin's voice in the background. In addition, the kind stranger who stopped to help my wife as she lay in the middle of the crosswalk was a retired nurse. That also helped to ease my mind a bit. An ambulance was en route and she would call once they knew the location of the hospital. She hung up and I began pacing around the apartment. The next call was from my wife. She calmly told me that she was going to St. Luke's on 59th Street. Then she commenced cursing the cab driver and how she wanted to kill the jerk. She sounded fine.

We spent the remainder of the day in the Emergency Room. There were no cuts or abrasions, but the X-rays revealed that her most serious injury was a fractured shoulder. She said that her whole body was hurting. I imagine that it felt like getting hit by an NFL tackle ... only you're not wearing any padding. I said to the attending nurse, "I guess this isn't the first time you've seen a patient who had been hit by a taxi." She said that I'd be surprised how many come in. No, I wouldn't.

Robin didn't want to take a taxi home (go figure), so we took the subway. Her right arm was in a sling, so I held her left arm as she limped onto the subway car. She immediately turned to a young woman in a seat at the end of the car and said, "I was just literally hit by a cab. Could you get up and give me your seat?" She may be down, but she's definitely not out.

That night I told her that I planned to drop out of the Christmas Bird Count to stay home with her. She insisted that she would be fine and I would be silly not to go. We went back and forth like that for a few minutes until I relented. She just wanted some peace and quiet to catch up on her reading.

My alarm woke me at 5:45am. I checked the weather and the windchill was 17 degrees. I was part of the team that was covering Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh. Much of our effort would be spent walking in a line across Floyd Bennett's Grassland Management Area. In the past, we've had some pretty brutal wind whipping across the fields. The 140 acre tract is part of NYC Audubons Grassland Restoration and Management Project that was spearheaded by Ron and Jean Bourque. People are restricted from walking the grassland and I feel privileged to do so during the CBC. It is one of only two large remnant grasslands in New York City.

There are also several stretches of pine barrens on Barren Island, the island where the old, decommissioned airbase was constructed. Historically, Long-eared and other owl species are found among the pines. The conifers are primarily a mono-culture of Japanese Black Pine and, for whatever reasons, they are all slowly dying off. I"m always optimistic that I'll find owls, but haven't in several years. It was a good day for diurnal raptors, however, and we observed 8 different species, a Christmas Count first for me. The best one was the blackest dark morph Rough-legged Hawk that I've ever seen. It hovered briefly over a small stretch of grassland just to the north of the park's entrance. It flew in from the north, and after a few minutes of scanning for prey, continued flying south across Rockaway Inlet towards the Rockaway Peninsula.

There was an abundance of Horned Larks in two or three flocks that seemed to be constantly on the move. Perhaps they were a bit nervous because of the abundance of predators. We were never able to locate a Lapland Longspur that has recently been seen in the company of one of the lark flocks. However, at one point Roberto, Lenore and I followed in our bins a flock of 18 Horned Larks with a single, smaller bird. Presumably, it was the longspur, but I try to avoid "what-else-could-it-be" logic.

A flock of four Eastern Meadowlarks was a species save for the borough. We usually find them after they flush during our walk across the fields. In the past, I've only had 5-second views of their stuttering flight going away from me before they drop back down into the grass and vanish from sight. Yesterday they gave us an early Christmas present when all four perched for several moments on the branches of a bare sapling in bright, early morning sunshine. It looked like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree with bright, yellow ornaments.

The purpose of collecting bird data on the Christmas Bird Count is to use the information, not only to assess the health of their populations, but also the general health of our environment. In the relatively short period of time that I've been participating, I've become aware of declines in some species. I try my best to be well-informed about environmental issues, but my experience on Friday emphasized the tenuous nature of all of our existence. My wife likes to tease me by saying that I'm saving the world one bird at a time, right now I'm just thankful that one particular Robin is still here.

A big thank you to Scott Whittle for his sharp eyes during the count and permission to use his photo.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Brooklyn's Monk Parakeets

I haven't posted anything about them recently, but I have mentioned Brooklyn's Monk Parakeets in past postings. Probably the largest, or at least most upscale, colony nests within the spires at the entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery. I thought you'd enjoy this video that I found on YouTube:

The annual Christmas Bird Count in Brooklyn is being held this Saturday. For a change, we have a decent sized team for Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh. I'm optimistic that I'll have some interesting things to report on Sunday.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I biked up to the north end of Prospect Park with the intent to bird my way down to the Lily Pond. Maybe this time I'd find the chat from the previous day.

Someone had place piles of mixed bird seed on top of the concrete balustrades that surround the ornamental pond at the Vale of Cashmere. For a few minutes I watched hungry, hyperactive chickadees, White-throated Sparrows, nuthatches, titmice and cardinals grab seeds then fly into the underbrush to eat. From the vale I cut across Nelly's Lawn, to the wooded pathway behind Sullivan Hill. Throughout the short stretch of forest I heard the muted, crunchy sound of dried leaves being flipped and the bouncy call notes of dozens of White-throated Sparrows as they foraged for seeds.

The bridle path adjacent to Rick's Place was rutted with tire tracks from park maintenance vehicles. Light snow and freezing rain from the previous night had melted and collected in the muddy depressions. A large flock of American Goldfinches had gathered in and around the temporary watering holes to drink and bath under a brilliant afternoon sun. I laid down my bicycle and sat on the ground at the edge of the bridle path. Several yard to my right, a Pine Siskin joined a group of goldfinches. He was followed by one, then two, then three Common Redpolls. I took my camera out, but a woman walking her pony-sized Mastiff up the path spooked the birds. Some flew up into the trees, others sought the protection of a multiflora rose tangle. When the woman and her steed were well out of sight, the birds slowly began to return.

As soon as I saw the redpolls I called a few friends to let them know the location. I could only reach Peter, who informed me that he was in Delaware. He sent out a text message and a few minutes later I heard Alan and Janet talking near the opening at the end of the path. A runner appeared from under the Boulder Bridge to my left, sprinting directly towards the finches. Again, the birds disappeared. I stood up and waved Alan and Janet over, as they didn't see me tucked back into the side of the trail. Unfortunately, like Friday's experience with Scott, the birds didn't return, so we walked around to the other side of Rick's Place to check some sweetgum trees. There were two birders near the top of the trail with their bins pointed upward. I said that there were some redpolls around, to which one responded, "We're looking at one now."

Alan and Janet got on the birds and were really happy. I was glad that I was able to help others find these rare winter visitors. The two birders that found the redpolls asked me about the goshawk and I described how she seemed to be hunting around that area and that, if they were patient, they might find her.

I couldn't stay very long and was about to jump on my bike and head home. Janet mentioned that they had seen a very large accipiter on their fire escape, next to their bird feeders. By her description it sounded like it wasn't the goshawk, but likely a large Cooper's Hawk. I said that the gos was unmistakable, especially in flight. Red-tailed Hawks appear lumbering and direct when flying in wooded areas. The Northern Goshawk, despite its large size, look amazingly agile as they twist and turn through the forest. We were about 50 yards from the Boulder Bridge facing north, towards Payne Hill. I felt like my description of the goshawk had barely left my lips, when it zoomed out of the woods of Payne Hill, flew over the path in front of us and up onto a perch in the Midwood. We ran to a break in the trees, where we had a good view of the perched raptor in a Sycamore tree. I called the other two birders over and pointed out the hawk.

I never made it to the Lily Pond, in fact, I wasn't even close. One of the great things about birding is that you can never be certain what you'll find when you go out into the field.

Prospect Park, 12/8/2007
Northern Goshawk (Rick's Place; flying into Midwood.)
American Kestrel (Circling over Payne Hill.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Redpoll (3, puddles next to Rick's Place.)
Pine Siskin (1, puddles next to Rick's Place.)
American Goldfinch (20-30, Rick's Place.)

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Belated Halloween story

I received the following, only-in-New-York story from a friend the other day and had to share it:

Forgive me if I sent this to you already...but if not, I thought you might find this interesting:

On Halloween night (2007) in Brooklyn this happened:

"I live in Brooklyn [ ... ] and last night was playing video games in the dark when an owl flew into my apt through an open back door that leads to a deck. My roommate and I were surprised, thinking it was a pigeon, but the bird didn't make any sound as it beat its wings. As we were thinking out loud that it was possibly an owl, it landed on a door frame and we were able to tell that it was an owl. We took a picture and corralled it with a towel. The owl was quiet the whole time and was very docile and not freaking out at all. We took it to the deck and let it fly off into the Halloween night."

The owl was a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Friday, December 07, 2007

Winter finches and other surprises

Peter called me early yesterday morning. He was in Prospect Park with Scott Whittle where they were looking at a Yellow-breasted Chat. I hadn't seen a chat this year and was resigned to the fact that I wouldn't, although last year I managed to see one on February 11th. Seeing a warbler in winter is always a nice treat. When the flowers are gone and the trees have all dropped their leaves, they are like a glowing ember left over from spring. Unfortunately, I couldn't drop everything and run into the park.

By 2:30pm I had some time so I headed up to the park. I realized as I was crossing the deserted Long Meadow that it was colder than I expected. The clear sky and brilliant sun had lulled me into thinking that it was still warm outdoors. The low sun created a golden glow on a pool of fallen ginkgo leaves near the edge of the lower pool.

When I made the right turn at the rock bridge in the Ravine I noticed one of our Red-tailed Hawks perched on a dead limb above the pathway. As I got closer I realized that it was actually the juvenile Northern Goshawk. She is a very large, imposing bird and has likely been reigning terror on all the forest birds since she's arrived in Brooklyn. Peter was walking the path towards me and I pointed up at the hawk. We thought that it might be her evening roost. She looked like she was settling down for the night so we left her in peace to try and relocate the chat.

The bright yellow bird was found by Alex Wilson while it was foraging near the Music Pagoda. The warbler gradually made his way along the edge of the stream that feeds into the Lily Pond, then across a small patch of grass and into the dense euonimous shrubs at the East Wood Arch. I spent about 30 minutes looking for the bird unsuccessfully then started back home.

I decided to walk up the ridge on the south side of the Ravine, hoping that the goshawk was still perched above the walkway on the opposite side. From that vantage point I would be nearly at eye level with her. She hadn't left, so I set up my tripod and shot about two dozen photos. I don't think she was finished hunting for the day as her head kept darting from side to side scanning the ground for prey. By about 3:30pm I packed up my gear and continued towards the Boulder Bridge and back through the Ravine. The sidewalk and forest in the Ravine was loaded with White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. They were feeding on sweetgum seeds scattered along the ground. A flock of about 20 birds were on the path in front of me and I was reluctant to continue walking as I'd interrupt their dinner. My hands were getting cold so I pushed ahead and the birds flew into the woods on either side of the path.

As I approached the stairway that descends into the Ravine's lower path, towards the Long Meadow, the mewing from a flock of goldfinches caught my attention. A flock of about 24 birds were feeding in a sweetgum tree. I began scanning the flock, looking for something different, and quickly spotted a smaller bird with a tiny bill and a black "soul patch" under its chin. Common Redpolls had recently been reported around the city, and I was staring up at two of them within the flock of goldfinches. I called Peter, then he called Scott, then Scott called me. I gave him directions to my location and he said that he'd be right over with his camera. I'm guessing that it was about 3 minutes after I had hung up the phone that the goshawk decided that it wasn't bedtime, but dinner time. She seemed to come out of nowhere and headed directly towards the flock of finches. They scattered and she perched near the top of an oak tree that towers over all the other trees in the Ravine. A few moment later she took off, flying through the trees towards the Midwood. When Scott arrived I gave him the bad news. We stayed for a little while hoping that the finches would return, but they didn't and the setting sun was quickly vanishing behind the Picnic House.

Both the Common Redpoll and the Northern Goshawk are denizens of New York State's northern forests. Goshawks probably eat redpolls way up north. It seems a little sad and ironic that a redpoll, who only ventures as far south as Brooklyn when food is scarce, survived the trip, found a good supply of seeds and then is eaten by a predator, who, under normal circumstances, he would never encounter in NYC. I guess it is tough to make it in New York.

Prospect Park, 12/7/2007
Northern Goshawk (Ravine.)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren (Lily Pond.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Redpoll (2, sweetgum in Ravine, with goldfinches.)
American Goldfinch

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Birds in Winter

A Walk in Prospect Park
Many Birds Found by a Good Observer.

Those of you who visit Prospect Park during the winter months rarely, perhaps, notice the many little feathered creatures who still flutter about the trees which cold weather has robbed of their leaves. The chattering English sparrow is a bird always much In evidence or a casual visitor may feel sure that he recognises a robin, but usually we are so certain that there are no birds left during the winter that we do not trouble ourselves to look for them.

But a closer observation, by a real lover of nature, will reveal quite a large number of birds that flutter about the park trees during the winter season. Let us take a stroll on a clear morning early in January and just after sunrise. Passing to the left from the main entrance we soon arrive at the Vale of
Cashmere, which is a quiet spot, entirely surrounded by high ground, heavily wooded. The little friends for which we watch are shy, but we hear from yonder bush a prolonged 'Tseep!" Oh, there are several white throated sparrows (zonotrichia albicollis), indulging in a sun bath. This bird is one of the largest of the sparrow family. It Is mottled brown on the back, with a pure white throat and breast ashy. Although most of these birds migrate yet a colony of them spends the winter regularly In Prospect Park.

Walking south over the lawn toward Battle Pass we startle a flock of small mouse colored birds. As they fly off we perceive the white feathers in their tails, showing plainly against the dark body. This is the slate colored
junco (junco Hyemalis), known as the snow bird. The sharp "Tschip-tschip" is so like the chipping sparrow that Wilson, the celebrated ornithologist, believed that the chipping sparrow turned into the snow bird in winter.

Looking upward as we trudge along we see a crow lazily flying and his familiar "khrah-khrah" is answered by his mate in the distance. But something flitted overhead as we watched the crow. Bigger than the robin, with a snowy patch on his back and each wing and tail feather possessing a yellow shaft, the flicker (Colaptes Auratus) is indeed a beauty. He is shy, keeping well up in the trees. He flies with quick. vigorous strokes. He Is also known as the golden winged woodpecker and the yellow hammer. His cry of "urick-ah-urlck-ah" is very penetrating.

Near the music stand we come across a small
nervous feathered creature running spirally up the trunk of an elm, pausing occasionally to observe what we are doing, for this brown creeper (certhia familiaris Americana) Is somewhat timid. Of a rich brown color, the little fellow is scarcely to be distinguished from the tree bark. His long curved bill is well adapted to picking out the insects on which be feeds. His quick "shree-shree-shree" may be heard from October until April.

As we cross the bridge back of the boat house, we hear the cheery call "Chick-a-dee, chick, chick, chIck-a-dee-dee" and we know that the black capped titmouse or chick-a-dee (Parus atricapillus) Is somewhere near. His cousin, the golden crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa), is not far off either, for we catch another call "Te-cet, te-it, te-cet" and we catch sight of this bird searching dillgently among the pine cones for the seeds which make his dinner. Next to the hummingbird, this little fellow is the smallest bird we have. He is dark olive green, with a grayish white breast and a broad flame colored band on the crown of his tiny head is margined with black.

In our circuit of the park we came across several other species of our feathered friends. The cherry robin, the blue bird and the gold finch, are all to be found at times on a winter walk through the park, by whoever will, with patient observation, look for the pretty feathered inhabitants in their winter quarters.

, Brooklyn Eagle, February 13, 1898

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Injured Red-tailed Hawk

There was a story in the New York Post about an injured young Red-tailed Hawk in the Bronx. Bobby Horvath was called in again to rehabilitate the hawk.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

2008 Calendar

Several people have inquired about prints of my images. In response, I have created the City Birder Wall Calendar. You can preview it here I also added a link in the sidebar.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Prospect Park birds

On Friday morning I received a call from Scott Whittle, who was birding in Prospect Park. Scott is a beginner birder but has been finding some incredible birds. His good fortune likely has a lot to do with him having very sharp eyes, as he is a professional photographer. When I see his name on my phone's caller ID I think, "oh no, what did he find this time that I can't go chase." On that particular morning he spotted a vireo feeding in the underbrush at lamppost J249. It is very unusual to see any species of vireo around NYC at such a late date and this is the time of year when odd vagrants tend to appear. I'm not sure what conditions lead to western species of bird finding their way to the east coast, but a Bell's Vireo was just found in Rhode Island.

I dropped everything and ran into the park to meet Scott and help identify the species of vireo. Near the Terrace Bridge I ran into another birder, Rob Bates, and we walked the short distance down Wellhouse Drive to lamppost J249. Scott was standing under a pair of magnolia trees at the east edge of the dense underbrush where the bird was last seen. I avoided the suggestion of Bell's Vireo and discussed the relative field marks of a red-eyed, warbling and Philadelphia Vireo. Within only a few minutes of my arrival I spotted a very pale bird flying in from our right. Before I had my bins on it, Scott exclaimed, "That's the bird!" I focused on a very pale bird with bright yellow plumage on its breast sides. After about 10 seconds, it vanished into the vegetation. Despite a long time searching, we never relocated the bird. I posted what I had observed on the local birding group hoping that someone would go looking for it on Saturday. I received lots of responses suggesting that it was a Bell's Vireo, but I couldn't make that stretch given my brief look.

On my way out of the park I stopped on Breeze Hill to retrieve my Birdcam. There was a Red-tailed Hawk perched atop a Bald Cypress at the edge of the Lullwater across from the Terrace Bridge. I watched her for several minutes and noticed that she seemed a little uneasy. She kept craning her neck and looking very intently at something off in the distance. Shane, who had come by to help with our earlier search, joked that she was probably staring down a goshawk perched at the other end of the Nethermead Meadow (about 1/4 mile away). I'm not sure who would win in a showdown between a Northern Goshawk and a Red-tailed Hawk. Judging by the nervous behavior of the red-tail on the cypress, she thinks it would be the goshawk. As I crossed the Long Meadow near the Picnic House I spotted a juvenile goshawk flying out of the woods on Payne Hill. She flew south at treetop level and dropped into the woods near the Upper Pool.

On Saturday I received a few calls that the unidentified vireo seen the day before hadn't been found. I decided to go over to Lookout Hill and check the brushy, edge habitats on the opposite side of the hill from lamppost J249.

It was colder than I expected, although it was probably just "normal" for December 1. I'd been spoiled by very warm weather and didn't have a chance to ease into winter. Some trees still seem reluctant to relinquish leaves. Sweetgum balls have opened, there tiny seeds creating brief snow showers with each gust of wind. Goldfinches were present in the sweetgums all along Center Drive and at the Butterfly Meadow on top of Lookout Hill. Flocks of White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos scoured the ground beneath the trees picking up seeds missed by the finches.

I met Scott at the footpath above lamppost J249. He and Bob O'Neill were the only two people still looking for the vireo. While Scott and I were scanning down into the underbrush, Bob was on the road below, search upward. Suddenly, Bob waved to us. I yelled, "Did you find the bird?" Neither Scott nor I were certain what he said, but we ran down the stairway leading towards Wellhouse Drive, then cut across the hillside down to the edge of the lake. Bob hadn't found the mystery vireo, but instead said that a hawk had just grabbed a pigeon behind him. I figured that it was just a Red-tailed Hawk, but standing on the ground at the edge of the reeds was a juvenile Northern Goshawk! The raptor had her wings spread in a mantling posture to hide her catch. I quickly forgot about the vireo. I think we all did.

Goshawks are rare but regular winter visitors seen in the forested sections of city parks when they are migrating south. Usually one only gets a brief glimpse of one as it flashes passed. While the hawk several yards away from us seemed unfazed by our presence, we continued watching from a safe distance. She slowly dragged her meal into the phragmites, where she could eat undisturbed. Like a tiger's stripes in long grass, the bold streaking on the front of the goshawk help it virtually disappeared into the vertical light and dark patterns of the reeds.

The hawk meticulously plucked the pigeon then slowly ate every part of the bird. When I first arrived at the scene I took a photograph. The time on the image was 12:54pm. I stayed until she finished, hoping to snap some photos of her as she emerged from the reeds and took flight. Well, all it took was a second of inattention and I missed the opportunity. At 3:19pm, she flew across the road in front of four unsuspecting park patrons and perched in a Ginkgo tree above the Wellhouse. She wiped her bill back and forth across a branch. Two women, who had witnessed the flight, were really intrigued so I gave them my binoculars to look at the hawk. At one point the goshawk wagged her tail from side to side. One of the women asked why it did that. My friend Carrie is a falconer and she once told me that hawks do that as a sign of contentment. It sounds like a reasonable explanation. I know I'd be pretty content after a 2 hour meal.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

The Birdcam works

I needed to make sure that the Birdcam didn't contain some kind of bird repellent or, more important, squirrel attractant. Call me paranoid, but I've observed waterfowl at a particular stretch of shoreline nearly every time I've been in Prospect Park for the past 10 years and the Birdcam only captured images of squirrels ... well, you see where I'm going with this.

Every winter my friend Peter puts up a pair of bird feeders at the edge of the woods on Breeze Hill. It's the spot where I recently photographed a Pine Siskin. I decided to test out the Birdcam at that location.

I attached the camera to a locust tree next to the mixed seed feeders using the included bungee cords. The thistle feeder was full of seeds, but there didn't seem to be any finches around using it. I felt almost like I was cheating because I wouldn't actually be taking the photographs. The birds would be creating their own self-portraits ... hopefully. My initial plan was to leave the camera overnight, but the feeder was so busy with chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and other winter birds that I thought leaving it for a couple of hours would suffice.

After a few hours I retrieved the camera and brought it home. I plugged it into my computer and walked away for a few minutes. I couldn't bear the thought of watching the images slowly pop up on my screen, only to see squirrels robbing the feeders. I gave the software several minutes to load all the photos, then sat down in front of my computer. Low and behold, there wasn't a single squirrel on the screen. The Birdcam had captured Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow and Purple Finch. The Chipping Sparrow was a nice surprise as they usually don't hang around Prospect Park this late into the year.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Monday, November 26, 2007

The squirrels are out to get me

I swear, they must be following me around. You might get the impression that there are no birds in NYC parks, only squirrels. My "brilliant" selection of Birdcam placement was, yet again, a flop. I put the camera in a spot where I have seen various species of waterfowl resting on the shoreline ... for years! It sees so much bird foot traffic that they have worn out a small section of shore right down to the dirt. The week that I chose to place a camera on the shore, not one bird, duck or otherwise, passed anywhere near the camera. I am 0 for 3. This is who filled up the memory card in the camera -

I have a good idea. Stay tuned for my next attempt.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

NPR Show on NYC Nature

NPR had an interesting broadcast on the nature of New York City. It was an interview with author Leslie Day, whose book "Field Guide to NYC" was recently published. You can listen to the broadcast below:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More hawks outside the kitchen

I was eating breakfast with my wife early this morning when she looked out the window and exclaimed, "Look, one of your red-tails came to visit". The blinds were blocking my view so I walked to the window and looked across the courtyard to the TV antenna where the raptors usually perch. I was surprised to see that it wasn't a Red-tailed Hawk, but a huge Cooper's Hawk. It was the first time that we've seen this hawk of the forest outside our window. My wife, understandably misidentified the bird as it was nearly the size of a Red-tailed Hawk.

For a size comparison, at the bottom of this posting is a photo of a red-tail on the same perch taken last year. Because the two birds are so close in size I would presume that the Red-tailed Hawk was a male and that the Cooper's Hawk was a female. I normally don't see individuals of those two species so close in size. In terms of weight, Red-tailed Hawks are, generally, a much heftier bird. Hopefully, she'll help thin out a flock of pigeons that someone has been feeding between the buildings.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Winter finch

Peter called me from the park to tell me that there was a Pine Siskin on the thistle feeder on Breeze Hill. Despite the cold, drizzly weather, I grabbed my gear and made the 25 minute walk across the park.

Pine Siskins are another bird species that is regarded as rare around the city, but I think is frequently overlooked. Every year at around this time I walk through Prospect Park, checking Sweetgum trees for American Goldfinch flocks. Once I find one, I take my time and scan through the entire flock looking for siskins. If I'm patient (and lucky), I'll usually find one. Last year I found one within a flock of goldfinches drinking from a large puddle on Center Drive.

There was a noisy flock of goldfinches at the feeder that Peter set-up on Breeze Hill. A few greedy birds monopolized the six perches on the tube feeder and snapped at others trying to access the seeds. A few minutes after I arrived a Pine Siskin aggressively pushed his way onto one of the perches.

I had been watching the birds for about 15 minutes when Rusty arrived. At that point the siskin had disappeared. It would be a life bird for Rusty and I reassured him that the Pine Siskin had been coming and going since I arrived. Eventually, it returned to the feeder and we both had good looks at the male bird. If the sun had been shining, I probably could have taken some nicer photos. It was nice to see all the winter visitors back in the park. Another interesting bird that I spotted at the feeders was a rare, yellow variant Purple Finch.

Prospect Park, 11/18/2007
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Ruddy Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
White-throated Sparrow
Purple Finch (Yellow variant.)
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

Friday, November 16, 2007

More pipits

I had a brief window of time at around noon to run into the park, set up the Birdcam and run back. Peter met me near the pools to unlock the gates. There is a small area at the edge of the water that looked as if it had seen a lot of bird traffic. The four foot stretch of shoreline was virtually devoid of plant life. In the passed, I've seen many Wood Ducks resting inconspicuously at that spot. Virginia Rail has also been observed in the vicinity. It seemed like a good place to point the camera.

On my way home, as I crossed the Long Meadow, I heard the high-pitched "pip-it, pip-it, pip-it" flight calls of several American Pipits. I looked up as the flock of birds passed above me. They dropped down onto the grass to my left, near a patch of freshly reseeded lawn. Like juncos, they have distinct, white outer tail feathers that flash as they fly. Modest, brown on brown streaky plumage may cause this unassuming bird to be overlooked when they are passing through the city, but habitual tail bobbing when they are walking or perched is a good tipoff that they might be someone special.

The wind was blowing hard out of the northwest and, as I watched the small flock foraging in the dry, stubbly grass of the Long Meadow, I thought that it must have felt familiar to the birds. I pictured them in a windswept, arctic tundra landscape during the nesting season. Long toes and claws make it easy for them to cling to the ground in strong winds. I have only observed pipits on the ground in Prospect Park 8 times since 1997. There were 13 individuals in this flock.

I rarely see American Pipits in Prospect Park. This was the first time that I've seen them twice in one season. Last night Steve and I talked about pipits passing through New York City. We surmised that they are likely more common than assumed as they are more often heard than seen. When we both learned their distinct flight call, we began to notice them flying overhead fairly regularly as they migrated south at this time of year .

Here's a short video clip of a pipit that I found on the Cornell Macaulay Library website. Notice how it continually bobs its tail.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"