Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Western Kingbird

After a long day standing in the sun at the annual Sneak Peak event at Freshkills, I was ready to go home, shower and relax for the evening.   I got up to the second step in my plan (the shower) and as I walked into my bedroom to finishing drying off and put clothing on I hear my e-mail alert chime on my phone.  So, I tap in my password, hit the mail app, and see the title of the new e-mail, "Western Kingbird at mt loretto" from Dr. Veit.  At first I was half surprised that Dr. Veit went out after being at Sneak Peak all day, but then again, he always seems to have boundless energy.  Neglecting to brush my hair, I pulled on a tee-shirt, shorts and sandals...and off I went.

Western kingbird, Staten Island, NY
December 5, 2010
While western kingbird is not a "life bird" or even a "Staten Island (life) bird", it is still a great species to see on Staten Island!  This bird would be my second western kingbird on Staten Island, my first record being a bird that I found at the corner of Hylan Blvd and Sprague Ave on December 5, 2010 (photo below).

So, back to the afternoon in question.  Upon arriving at Mt. Loretto in the fading light, I quickly parked and jumped out of the car.  Up the road I ran to the spot we call the "Sparrow Bowl".   I looked around for about ten minutes, but the bird was no where to be seen.  Feeling slightly anxious, I started to walk up the road towards the bluffs. Looked around the field and there was no sign of the Western kingbird. I then spent about 25 minutes looking around the upper part of the field and started to feel dejected. So I decided to slowly walk back down the road towards the park. Looking up into the tallest tree near the Sparrow Bowl, I saw a bird perched at the top of the tree. I quickly put my binoculars to my eyes and saw the bright yellow belly of the Western kingbird. My friend Mike text message me at that time and asked if I had found the bird. "It's here it's here", I replied and looked down the road towards the parking lot and saw Mike come quickly running to where I stood. We both got on the bird and pulled out our cell phones to try for digi-bin photos.  After a few minutes of getting passable photographs we decided it was time to leave.  CHECK!

The next day, I left school a little earlier than usual and returned to Mt Loretto where Tom Brown reported the bird was again at the Sparrow Bowl. Tom and two undergrad students had the bird in their scopes.  I joined them for a while and finally Tom left.  Since it was evening and a bunch of common nighthawks had been seen during the previous week, I thought it would be a good idea to hang around in hopes a nighthawk would come flying by.  After a half-hour or so, luck paid off and a single nighthawk came flying over the fields... another year-bird!  Overall, it was a great two days and I got two good year birds!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Big Year suspended...

Well, as life has it, I have not been able to devote the time and energy into getting out into the field in search of birds.  I am saddened, of course, but the changes that are happening in my life require my fullest attention and efforts so that in the future I will be able to make every year a big year... and who knows, maybe even get paid to go birding!

Please come back for some what regular updates about my various projects and interests.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another two

Last week was packed with non-birding activities, and added to the packed schedule, I am just starting to recover from a very bad cold that I was battling all last week.  Despite my illness, I did get out for a few hours on Saturday morning to see the varied thrush that was found in Prospect Park.  Unfortunately, I can't count this bird for my big year because it's in Brooklyn, but another goal I have for this year is to hit 350 species for the state this year.  The thrush was my 346th... 4 to go on that goal.   

The first Staten Island Big Year bird I have found since my last posting was a fish crow that we heard calling from Holten Ave and Purdy Place yesterday morning.  The second year bird, and one that we usually have to make special trips to certain locations to find was rusty blackbird.  These I found with Mike Shanley as we took a quick walk at Conference House this after.  Although not a typical location to find this species annually, I have found rusties in the wet woodlands on two prior instances in the last 11 years of birding.

The list now stands at 108.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two days, two ducks

The past two days have been filled with non-Big Year responsibilties, so the birding has been limited.  Despite the limitations on my time I have been able to pick up two year birds.  Yesterday morning, after picking up breakfast I stopped at the cemetery for a quick check of the ponds.  Luckily, I came up on Parallel Pond a beautiful drake wood duck flushed up from the edge and flew across the pond.  After enjoying this wonderful creature, it was time to head home to take care of some reading.

Today was such a wonderful late winter day that I had to stop on at Great Kills on the way home from work.  Oh, before I go on... last Tuesday, Tom St. Pierre and I took a trip out to Gilgo Beach to successfully chase the gyrfalcon that's been hanging around the marshes.  While watching the falcon another Tom from Staten Island showed up and he was sporting a Nikon ProStaff 82mm spotting scope.  I've been looking around for a good mid-priced scope but haven't been pleased with any of the scopes I've been running into.  Well, after look through Tom's scope, I was sold on this one!  Within three hours of returning home, I order my own Nikon ProStaff 82mm from Amazon and it arrived on Friday afternoon.

So, back to today... using my new scope, I started to scan the bay but was only seeing distance common goldeneye, bufflehead and red-breasted merganser.  Turning the scope to the closer ducks I came upon a hen black scoter! Check!   This might be the same bird that's been seen on and off at Great Kills since mid-January, but either way, it's a year-bird!  

With the addition of these two ducks my big-year list stands at 106. Hopefully, with migration starting up the list will start growing in leaps and bounds!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What a day to take off work!

Having worked last Saturday, and required to work on Friday I could select either Wednesday or Thursday to take off, as to not go over my allotted weekly hours.  If you live around New York, you'll know that Wednesday was non-stop rain, so naturally the best day to go into work.  This left me with a beautiful Thursday to go birding in hopes of adding to my Big Year list. And this choice turned out to be better than I could have imagined!

Birding, as with most things in life, is all about luck and skill, but mostly being in the right place at the right time pays off the biggest dividends.  The latter statement was the case on Thursday.  My day started off with a stop at the bank, something I rarely do these days due to online or over-the-phone systems.  Then next I stopped at the usual deli to get a BLT and then, using some of the money I got at the bank, I stopped to fill up my gas tank.  I usually get gas in the afternoon on my way home from work, but I wanted to fill the tank to be ready to go on Saturday morning when Mike, Dave and I were driving out to Long Island for a pelagic trip.

So, after making the three stops, I had to pick where I could eat my BLT while looking for birds.  My first idea was to go to the Cemetery and sit near a pond, but this was quickly changed when I got there and workmen were driving around.  For my troubles, I did pick up the long searched for brown-headed cowbirds mixed into a flock of starlings and common grackles feeding on the lawn between the headstones.  But still, where to eat breakfast?

Next thought was to stop along Holten Ave to watch Wolfe's Pond for gulls or other birds flying in.  Fortunately, you'll see why I say this in a minute, the tide was very high so the pond was higher than normal.  This means there were no places around the pond for gulls to land.  Yes, they will land on the water, but having some exposed shore increases the probability they will stay.   So, where to go?  The answer was just around the corner - Lemon Creek!

Lemon Creek Park is still closed due to Sandy, but the gravel parking area along Johnston Ave is open and provide a vie of the small marina area.  This spot has turned up red-necked grebe and canvasback over the years, along with a few other I'm not recalling, so I though why not eat here.   As I picked up my sandwich and took the first bit.  Right as I got ready to take my second bite, I saw my friend and local bird Jeff Stetson come pulling along side me.

Jeff and I started chatting about our trip to Florida and the lack of "good" birds around the island lately.  Just as the conversation started to ebb, we both see a small black and white bird come floating into the inlet. "Is that a razorbill?", Jeff asks and I say "looks like it" without looking in my binoculars.  "But there no white on the face", I say to which Jeff replies, "maybe a young bird?".  So, we jump out of our vehicles and I hand my binoculars to Jeff so I could take photos with my point-and-shoot.

After a minute Jeff hands my binocular back and I get a look.  The bird just didn't set right with me for razorbill, so I express my uncertainty to Jeff pointing out the lack of white on the face and the pointed bill, not a blunt ended bill like a razorbill should have at any age.  The excitement started to build at this point. Taking deep breathes, we grab field guides from the car and start looking at other murres.  Too large for dovekie and common murre has even more white on the face than a razorbill, so the only murre left was thick-billed.  Another few looks at the bird and the field guides made us 99.9% confident it was a thick-billed murre.
Thick-billed murre, Lemon Creek, 2/28/13

I have seen thick-billed murre before, but not a few years.  Also, this would be the island's first thick-billed murre in about 50 years, so we wanted to be correct with the ID.  To get a second opinion, I took a photo of the back of my camera with my cell phone and sent it off to Isaac.  Within a minute Isaac replied with a positive confirmation on the thick-billed murre identification!  Feeling super excited, the text-messages and phone calls started up again.  At this point, Jeff ran back to his house to get his camera, and Tom St. Pierre showed up with his camera.

We were able to get great photos of the bird as it swam around the marina area.  Mike Shanley was the first person to arrive and get the bird easily.  About 30 minutes later, Cliff Hagen arrived on scene, but at this point the bird had swam up Lemon Creek and Cliff found it from Bayview Ave.  Finally, around 11:15, Ed Johnson arrived after driving from the Staten Island Museum in St. George.  I hopped in the car with Ed and we relocated the bird from Bayview Ave as it swam no more than 40 feet from where we stood.

After this it was time to head home for a break.  I last saw the bird at 11:30am from Hylan Blvd.  It was heading up Lemon Creek, oddly against the tide.  The search resumed around 2:30pm, but searching the entire creek until 6:00pm came up short.  Searches the next by also came up short.

So, with the REALLY BIG check, the list now stands at 104.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday and Monday

Finally!  Some nice weather brings good birding.  Sunday was spent with Dave and Anthony C., Staten Island's teen-age birder.   We started the day picking Anthony up at the Cemetery and then headed up the east shore.   The first few stops were not terribly exciting, but as we were driving down Hylan Blvd Anthony asked if we'd make a stop at Arbutus Lake.  I hadn't been planning on it, but since it's a quick drive-by I agreed and made the quick right-hand turn.     The pond just had a few bufflehead, red-breasted mergansers and canada geese.  As I started to make a u-turn on Nicalosi Drive, Anthony exclaims from the back seat, "Common Mergansers".  I ask where and he says flying over.  Very quickly, I put the car in park mid-turn and jump out just in time to see about 25 common mergansers flying off... CHECK!  

The next stop was at Spanish Camp off Pollion Ave.  We were greeted by two turkey vultures we flushed and landed on the top of telephone poles.  Closer inspection found a dead possum they were snacking on just off the road.  Moments later, another group of ten common merganser, all drakes, came flying by!  As we walked up to the remaining cottages, there were numerous juncos, song sparrows and doves around the ground.  As we checked the side of Seguine Pond, a group of about 15 red-winged blackbirds came flying in.   Blackbird have definitely been on the move this week!

The next stop was at Great Kills Parks' salt flats.  Lots of gulls were on resting on the flats, but most importantly, Anthony pointed out a beautiful male Boat-tailed Grackle picking the flatten spartina stems!  CHECK two for the day!  As we poked around, a second male boat-tailed grackle came flying onto the flat from the marshes.   Not much else was there, so we moved on to Father Cappidano to check the pines.

As we crossed to the park side of the road, there were two Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) SUVs pulling up to the end of the walk away.  Well, seeing that people were walking on the Miller Field side of the fence, we averted any confrontation and checked the one strip of pines from the National Park side.   Unfortunately, no crossbills, but we did have two red-breasted nuthatches in a dead pine along the beach.   One of the PEP officers did step out of her car to see what we were doing.  After a few minutes of chatting with her and showing pictures of the nuthatches, it was time to keep moving...

Moravian Cemetery was the next stop.  Despite it's Mor-Avian name, there wasn't too much activity... oh, we did stop at KFC for a quick lunch.  On the pond, there were continuing ring-necked ducks , mallards and bufflehead and also a single drake green-winged teal.

Last weekend, Dave walked Old Mill Road and found a fox sparrow and catbird, both species I need for my big year.  Catbird isn't really a big concern as they are one of the most common local nesters, but there was one year I missed fox sparrow.... So, we walked about half way down the multi-use pathway that is now Old Mill Road and weren't seeing much at all.  There were a few killdeer calling from the marshes below the path and maybe a couple of cardinals and white-throated sparrows.  On the return trip, we did have a coopers hawk flying by and about 100 feet from the chruch/parking area we pished up a mixed flock of wintering birds.   At first, we only had white-throated sparrows, two carolina wrens and three downy woodpeckers... then, once again Anthony calls out something good.  This time it was the target species, fox sparrow! Quickly, Dave and I got on the bird and saw there were actually two fox sparrow hoping around the thicket! CHECK!

Overall, I was happy with our haul, three year birds bring my total to 102.

Monday's are my typical days off and the weather was even better than yesterday!  I started off at Mount Loretto Unique Area.  As I stepped out of the car I could hear red-winged blackbirds calling and in the distance a cardinal.  As I walked around it was clear that both of the species, at least the males, were already setting up territories!  Spring is close!   The rest of the walk was uneventful, but it was nice to be out.

My other stops today were actually pretty dead despite the wonderful weather.  Conference House Park was filled with storm-recovery activities so there were literally no bird expect a hairy woodpecker and a few bufflehead on the bay.

Well, tomorrow my friend Tom and I are chasing the gyrfalcon out at Gilgo Beach in the morning and then I have a meeting in the afternoon, so no Staten Island birding.... but I worked this past Saturday earning a day off on Wednesday, hoping to get out and with luck finding some new year birds!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An update

Unfortunately, life, work, and weather have been affecting the amount of time I have been able to get out birding these past two weeks.  Hopefully, the coming weekend will be more favorable for some Big Year Birding!

Just wanted to give that little update.  Plans for the big year are still going strong, just the timing and opportunities are lacking :-(

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

3 Year-birds!

This past Sunday turned out to be the first day since early January when I picked up more than one year-bird in a single day and also saw the return of Dave!   We started out at Page Ave, waiting for persons to show up for the Ecology Walk.  Due to the cold weather, snow and high tide, no one showed, so it was off to do some birding on our own.

The first stop was the Cemetery, where a slow walk through eight inches of snow turned up along eight species of birds.  Due to the snow, it the walk was slow, so after about a half hour, we got out of there.  The next quick stop was Wolfe's Pond for a look through the gulls.  Only ring-billed and herring gulls were on the iced pond today.  We stopped at Blue Heron Park to use the bathroom, but it turned into a forty-five minutes stop when I started chatting with the staff in the Nature Center.  

As we were leaving, my father called to report, "a small dark duck with a white spot on it's head, near Harold and Hylan".   Since we were right there, I told him we'd check it out.  A couple of passes up and down Hylan in the general vicinity of Harold turned up no ducks on the side of the road.  Hopefully, the little duck was able to take flight again once it realized it lands on a major roadway.  On to Arden Ave.

We parked in the same general location where I'd seen the redpolls last week, but there were no finches around today.  So, we went to scan the bay for anything.  First, as tradition has it, we found Lester, our seasonal resident Lesser Black-backed Gull hanging out on "his beach" just east of Arden Ave.   After looking at Lester, the scanning commenced.  Almost simultaneously, we came upon an interesting duck just off shore from Lester.  We got into a better position to get out of the sun, and relocated the bird when she surfaced from a dive.  After looking at her for a minute, we could see that it was a female WHITE-WINGED SCOTER!   Year-Bird!

After the excitement was over, it was time to head to Great Kills.  The snow from Saturday's storm covered the fields were the snow bunting and lark usually hang out, but luck was on Dave's side (in terms of being able to get photographs).  Just before reaching the turn-in for the parking lot, I noticed the large bare patch in the snow between the road and the parking lot was covered with birds!   Even with naked eye I saw these were the snow bunting.  So, I pulled into the parking lot and carefully rolled up on the bunting, with Dave's side of the car closest to the birds.  He was elated to use his new dSLR camera to get super closer-up shots of both bunting and lark!  Score!

After the photo excitement was over, we headed down to the mud flats.  On our second stop to scan, Dave says, "Hey, I think I have a pipit on the flats".  Quickly, I got my binoculars on the birds and indeed, it was a pipit, CHECK!  Year-bird two for the day!    We looked around at the gulls and waterfowls, but just the usual suspects.  Then, as we started back to the car, I spotted a small raptor in a tree at the edge of the phragmite marsh.  Neither of us could tell what it was, but based on size and shape, we were thinking merlin.  Changing our position resulted in missing when the bird took off, darn it, so we continued back to the car.  Right as we opened the doors to the car, a merlin came in to chase the snow bunting... CHECK!  Year-bird number three for the day!

Our last stop of the day was Fort Wadsworth in hopes of finding the Iceland gull for Dave.  Unfortunately, it was in not to be.  Although, there were numerous gulls along the beach, there wasn't an Iceland gull.  So, with three year-birds for the day, it was time to head home... hopefully next week will bring some early migrants and the ponds will open back up again!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Step into the freezer...

After a break from the cold during the mid-week, the cold is back along with some very strong winds.  My day started out getting a breakfast sandwich at my favorite deli, and then a quick drive through the Cemetery.  I was kind of surprised to find that the three ponds here were free of ice.  Swimming in Perpendicular Pond were five bufflehead, a couple of mallards and a two northern shovelers!  At North Pond there was a great blue heron and a pair of hooded mergansers.   After I finished my sandwich, it was time to hit the recently reopened Blue Heron Park.

Before going to the Nature Center for a quick walk to Spring Pond, I thought it a good idea to check the blue belt ponds along Barclay Ave. The blue belt is a system of waterways around Staten Island that have been cleared to increase flow and replanted with native vegetation to increase rain water drainage from neighborhoods.   So, stepping out of my car I could hear lots of birds tweeting and flitting around.  Closer inspection found many house finch, chickadees, titmice and a couple of Carolina wrens.  After a few minutes of walking along Barclay Ave and checking all the birds, no year-birds were found so time to head onto the nature center.

Blue Heron Park had been closed since Hurricane Sandy hit in late October, but announcements were posted on Facebook that the park would be open on Thursday.  I didn't want to spend too much time, so my plan was to do the short walk from center to Spring Pond.  I began to see birds moving around the woods just down the trail from the center.  Listening, I could hear white-throated sparrows and chickadees.  Looking around with my binoculars, I also found titmice, red-bellied woodpecker, a downy woodpecker and many white-breast nuthatch.  As I stood watching this nice winter flock, I saw a smaller bird with white belly and brown back circling upward on a tree trunk.  Locking in with my binoculars, I confirmed it was a year-bird, a Brown Creeper!  Check!     After looking around a bit more it was time to head off... where to?

On my way down Hylan Blvd, I saw the tide was going out, so I thought to check for gulls at Great Kills.  As I pulled on Buffalo St to head into the park, I received a text-message from my friend Nate who works for Parks.  He wanted to know if I was interested in going into Freshkills to assist with his deer survey.  Of course, I said YES!  So, down to the mud flats at Great Kills for a quick check then onto meet Nate.  

The drive through and short walks around Freshkills was nice, and it was great to catch up with Nate as well.  As we walked around a rain water retention pond, not one but three pheasants flushed!  YEAR-BIRD!  Finally a day with two year-birds!  Nate commented that they are usually near the pond, he wanted to help me get them.  Unfortunately, there were no deer around South Mound, so it was time to check East and West Mound.  There were a few red-tailed hawks flying around, and similar to Sunday, only three northern harriers were seen.   As we drove along the base of West Mound Nate spotted a deer munching on the cedars (photo to the right).  After a moments the doe started to prance away, followed by a nice buck and another doe. After that, it was time to go...   After saying good bye to Nate and discussing plans for some night surveys, I called it a day.   Two year-birds, I was happy!   Hopefully, tomorrow's adventures will yield more tics to add to the Big Year List!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Obstacles and Ice

Yesterday (Tuesday) I ventured out and about to find some new birds, but mostly I just found closures and iced over ponds :-(    This year presents particular challenges to doing a Staten Island Big Year, namely, park closures due to clean-up of Hurricane Sandy debris and especially cold temps.   Really, this means I have to be a bit more crafty about where I go to find birds.  -Note: the runner's gloves I purchased this weekend are actually really great in colder conditions.  I don't think I'd go on a mountain climbing expedition with them, but for birding around Staten Island, they're great!

My first stop was Great Kills Park, which for the most part is open, but heavy machinery was being used in some of the best birding spots, so I couldn't even get near these locations to see what birdies were brave enough to hang around.  On top of the people-disturbances, the fog limited visibility to just a couple hundred feet so scanning for ducks was a futile effort... My plan was to head north-east to search for winter-only bird (explanation below).   Hoping for crossbills, I stopped at the end of Ft. Capidano Blvd, but again, park access became an issue.  This location is in the heart of the Sandy-Zone and South/Midland Beaches are still closed while the parking areas are used for debris management.   I did spend about 30 minutes walking along the sidewalk, hoping in vein that a flock of either red or white-winged crossbills would come flying out of the pine... none did.  Then it was on to Fort Wadsworth to check out the gulls and waterfowl... this can be a great location to find "white-winged" gulls - Iceland or glaucous - and sea ducks such as the three species of scoter.  Unfortunately for me, when I got to beach access point there were about 7 National Park Police cars and 3 large front-end loader blocking the parking area.  Since this lot was the only place to park within walking distance, I gave up and headed to other parts of the island.

From park closure to ice... As I headed 'to other parts of the island', my phone rang and it was Isaac Grant suggesting we meet at Silver Lake to check out the gulls and geese on the iced over reservoir.   Silver Lake is one of the only spots on the island to find another species I need, common merganser.  Unfortunately, due to last week's temperatures not reaching above the mid-20's, there was no open water at all.  Finding a diving duck is pretty impossible when the open water they need is totally iced over... sigh.   I'm not too concerned about not finding one though, they are frequently (kinda) seen flying over during migration periods, or even during these cold times if you're really lucky - e.g. Tom Brown saw a small flock flying over the college last week.  All good birds in all good time, as they say...

So, the strategy for this time of year is find "winter birds", especially the crossbills.  If I dip on these species before spring, there is always the chance to see them again in the fall and early winter.  The crossbills are a little different story though because they are not seen every year on Staten Island.  This year is little different though.  Due to the conditions and food availability up north this year, thousands of crossbills, both red and white-winged have move south in search of food.  So, the time is NOW to get these species on my list!

Well, work tomorrow so limited birding, but I'll be putting in a lot of time this weekend and early next week to find new year-birds... till then...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Spots on my glass

Woke up this morning hoping to get some birding in before the precipitation started.  As luck would have it, I got all geared up, stepped out side and found the snow had already started falling.   The was coming down just enough to make nice wet blobs on my binoculars and eye-glass, so birding-by-car time...  a few stops along my usual route on the south shore came up with nothing too exciting so after getting breakfast, I came home.

I thought this would be a good time to write a little more about the waterfowl counting from yesterday afternoon.   The annual waterfowl count is organized by the New York State Ornithological Association and over the years has been used to track the wintering waterfowl in the state and used to help set tag-limits for hunting purposes.  Yes, we help out hunter... not many realize that hunters were some of the first conservationist, and protection of habitats and preservation of species are shared concerns of both hunter with guns and hunter with binoculars (birders).
Eurasian wigeon, Tottenville Train Station, Jan. 20, 2009
After spending the late-morning/early afternoon at Freshkills, I headed back to the south shore to count the waterfowl around the tip of Staten Island.  I started at Johnston Terrace to count the waterfowl at the mouth of Lemon Creek and Prince's Bay.  Then it was on to Page Ave, then Sprague Ave to cover that section of the Raritan Bay.  After these stops I took a quick walk at Conference House Park to cover the tip of island at Ward's Point including the confluence of the Ratitan Bay, Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay.  Then my last stop was at the Tottenville Train Station, a popular place to find wigeon and brant.  Also, I stopped at fields between these locations to count geese...  I don't know if it was the weather or the time of day, but there were very few waterfowl to be counted.  Here's my list:

common loon 2
red-throated loon 6
horned  grebe 28
canada goose 136
brant 668
american wigeon 26
eurasian wigeon 1 (photo above)
american black duck 19
mallard  13
bufflehead  48
common goldeneye 2
hooded merganser 3
red-breasted merganser 3
ruddy duck 2
double-crested cormorant 2

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday's adventure

The day started out with a quick trip to the Cemetery before heading to meet up for the trip into Freshkills.  In all, I spent about 40 minutes walking around the cemetery with only a handful of common birds for my efforts, and none of the them year-birds.  So, off to the UA parking lot to start the waterfowl counting.
Frozen Main Creek from North Mound

Big thanks to the Parks Department for devoting time to get my co-worker, Ed, and I into Freshkills for the Waterfowl Count.  Typically, we'd have an official tour of the park on this Sunday, but due to some staffing issues at Park, the tour was cancelled.   Overall, the numbers of waterfowl within the site were good with over a dozen northern pintail being the highlight.  The kills were mostly frozen which made the counting a little easier (see picture on right).  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we were hoping to also get some land-type birds in addition to counting the waterfowl.  To this end, we had half luck, which is always much better than no luck and ever much more so because we were searching for "GOOD BIRDS".  The two targets were eastern meadowlark and barn owl.  Ed and I walked around the edges of the fields hoping for the meadowlark, but no luck.  Then we were looking around a stand of trees, carefully walking as to not flush any roosting owl. Well, as I walked close to the edge of the tree I saw a big orange bird come flying out.  Immediately my mind locked on the identity, BARN OWL!   I called out, "BARN OWL, flying left", but within 20 seconds in flew down in the some other trees and out of sight.  Unfortunately, Ed didn't get on the bird before it disappeared, but Mike from Parks did see the bird from where he was standing.  BIG CHECK!   This was only the second time I've seen a barn owl on the island and a very important bird to get for my big year.   After a little more waterfowl counting, it was time to get out Freshkills and on with the rest of my waterfowl counting responsibilities.

After parting ways with Ed and Mike and grabbing bite to eat, I started back south to my Christmas Bird Count - Waterfowl Count territory at the tip of the island.    Stopping on Johnston Terrace, Lemon Creek, Page Ave, Conference House Park, and the Tottenville Train Station, my waterfowl totals were lower than pervious years and even lower than our Christmas Bird Count numbers from back in December.  The highlight on these stops was the continue Eurasian wigeon at the train station.  This bird has been wintering off the train station for the last four years and is probably the most reliable Eurasian wigeon in New York City.   So, with counting complete and a great year-bird added to the list, it was time to head home...  I have a few hour tomorrow morning before school responsibilities start up, so I'm hoping to get out for at least a while....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Increasing social media usage

Yesterday afternoon I attended a training on Tumblr for my work at the museum.  While we were listening to the presentation, it dawned on me that I should be using Twitter and Tumblr much more than I do.  Within a half-hour of getting home I was on setting up accounts and figuring out how to link up all these new social media options...  anyhow, you can now follow me at these site:
Twitter:  @SethWSI

I will tweet new blog updates as they are published and I'm going to try to add at least one new image to Tumblr with a short note everyday.

It's gonna be cold, cold, cold....

Needing a full night's rest to help with my exhaustion from returning from Florida earlier in the week and then putting in three long days at work, I didn't get up till 8am, but was out the door within ten minutes.  My first order of business was to find a store with winter gloves still in stock... why would you not stock gloves until March is beyond me, but after visiting two big box stores I ended up getting a part of "runners gloves".  This style of gloves is very thin, so my hopes of having warm hands were equally thin.  

The first birding-by-car stop was along Holten Ave to see if any good gulls were resting on the ice.  In the past, Iceland gulls and black-headed gull have been seen at this location, but today there weren't even any of the common gulls around... moving along... the next stop was Great Kills Park.  

The first thing I noticed when I turned onto Buffalo Street was the newly installed fencing, then further down the flattened phragmites (picture to the right).  Just before leaving for Florida, an article was published in the SI Advance about the upcoming clean-up of the radioactive materials which has caused the closure of a large portion for the last 7 years or so. It will be interesting to see what impact these activities will have on the nesting woodcock, pheasants, etc this spring. I kept stopping along the road to check out the sparrows foraging in the short grass, but only came up with tree and white-throated sparrows.  So, on to check around the park for winter birds.

My first stop was the field around the play ground to look through the "tundra birds".  My goal here was to either find some really crazy rarity or the more common pipit.  A few scans through the flock turned up nothing, but the flock was a rather impressive mix of about 70 snow bunting and 50-60 horned lark.  After that I checked the harbor then onto the salt flats, time to get out of the car...

Walk up to the flats, I could see there were many gulls on the flats and scattered waterfowl just off-shore.  Looking around I saw many of the expected gulls, some black ducks and then I came across the flock of scaup.  Carefully looking at each of the female scaup confirmed they were just scaup with no canvasback or scoter mixed in.  So, from there I walked down the beach a little.  Luckily, the very thin "runners gloves" I purchased earlier were just enough to keep my hands warm enough to hold my binoculars but when the wind blew a little chill would permeate but not enough to really have an affect.   

As I walked down the beach many little shorebirds started to run around the flats.  Mostly these were sanderling, but there were also two killdeer.  Then I saw another bird, slightly larger and darker than a sanderling, with it's head facing away from me.  In a moment it turned and I clearly saw that it was a dunlin!  Check!  My first new year-bird since returning from the south.   After looking around some more, I finally felt my feet getting cold so it was time to move on.

I quickly stopped at Blue Heron Park to checked the feeders behind the nature center, but they were empty and the only birds around were tufted titmice and chickadees.  Having an obligation at 2pm, I started to make my way home.  But along the way, I stopped at Wolfe's Pond again to find a group of ring-billed gulls on the ice.  A quick walk to the beach came up with many of the same species at Great Kills.  My last stop was a driving through Mount Loretto to check the Canada geese flocks for a rare goose, and then down Page Ave to check feeders.  Although there were many geese and the feeders were active, no year-birds were located, so I finally headed home.

One year-bird for the day is not bad at all.  My total is now 92 species.  Hopefully, tomorrow's adventure into Freshkills Park (Landfill) with a member of the Freshkills Park Team from Parks Department and my co-work in order to count waterfowl will turn up something good.  There are a couple of non-waterbirds that are frequently found in Freshkills that would be really great to get ASAP... crossing my fingers!