Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Year of Birding...

Happy 2010!

January 1st is one of the most important days in my birding year. The reason for this is the start of new "Year List". Listing is an activity that many birds partake in on various levels. I simply keep annual Staten Island and New York State lists. It's very interesting to see what rarities change from year to year, and also to track how many species you find each year! The real interest is, of course, is the comparison between years.

It's become an annual tradition that I spend New Year's Day traveling around Staten Island in an attempt to start the New Year off with a bang by tallying as many species as possible. This year I was joined by fellow birder, Dave Eib and what a great day it turned out to be! In fact, as far as I can tell from my record, with a total of 70 species this is my best January 1st ever!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cackling Geese?????

These photographs of 2 cackling geese (Branta hutchinsii) were taken on October 16 and 20, 2009 at Mt. Loretto, Staten Island (Richmond County), NY.

Photo#1.1 Dark breasted bird (#1). This bird's dark breast, small size and bill, and short neck made it stand out from the Canada geese, 10/16/09

Cackling Goose (right-front), Canada Goose (left-back)
Photo 1.2- Bird #1 and Canada goose, 10/16/09

Cackling Goose
Photo 1.3 Bird#1 in flight, 10/16/09

2 Cackling Geese on Friday!
Photo 2- Bird #1 with a second (Bird #2) cackling goose. Bird #2

Photo #3 10/20/09 (from here on)- Cackling Goose- Rear view

Photo #4 Cackling Goose... profile... this image may have gotten streched lenght wise a little bit

Photo #5 Cackling Goose (right) Canada (left)

Photo #6 Cackling Goose in front of Canada goose (10/20/09)

Photo #7 - 3 geese.... The dark breasted bird on the left is the IDed Cackling Goose, the goose in question the bird on the right side of the image... to my untrained Cackling mind, this bird looks good for a "typcial" Richardsons??
Photo #8 - bird in question is in the front, walking left... note smaller bill, shorter neck and white patches

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rufous Hummingbird on Staten Island!

As I sat at the front desk at work yesterday, Howie Fischer surprised me with a phone call to report that he had just seen Staten Island's FIRST RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD at his feeders on Grymes Hill!

A long over due species for STATEN ISLAND!

After hanging up the phone, I quickly hopped on the SINaturalist home page to post Howie's report and sent a Mass Text to a bunch of local bird chasers.

This species is common in western United States and is a frequent visitor to the east coast in the fall. Every year a few show up somewhere in New York, and multiple individuals were banded last fall in a single day in New Jersey last fall!

Matt Savoca was one of the first birders to join Howie in the stake-out, and after about an hour and a half, Matt texted to report that the bird had reappeared! Over the next hour the bird made apperances every 10-15 minutes. I was stuck at work watching the clock slowly tick, thinking about this wonderful events going on just miles away! Finally, when 5 o'clock hit I was in the car racing up to Howie's!

When I arrived Ed Johnson and Matt reported the bird was JUST there feeding on some red flowers only feet from where they stood! For me it took about 15 minutes but finally the little red jewel came to the feeders and zipped off. Moments later he returned and I was able to get satisfyingly awesome views! Over the next few hours the group included Dr. Veit, Ann Purcell, Zach Johnson (whom Ed left to picked up) and Howie returned from some errands.

Over the next hour and half the bird made 4-5 trip to the feeder and spent some time perching on a wire tomato cage in the backyard. The sun was setting and a coolness nipping the air, so we all thanked Howie again and went our own ways...

Today's story coming soon..... please note both photos were taken "today".....

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dragonfly Chase!

Chasing (looking for) rare birds can be equated to searching for the proverbial "needle in a hay stack", so the chase after a rare dragonfly has the same chance as the ice cube does in... But as always nature provides many other interesting creatures as one searches for the goodie!

Local birder and SIDfA volunteer, Dave Eib e-mailed in a photograph of a "mosaic" darner that he'd found last week at High Rock. Much to my surprise the photo reveled a new species for the Staten Island list, a new county record! The "Mosaic" darner ended up being a Spatterdock Darner (Rhionaschena mutata)! Dave was able to capture a wonderful photograph of this great insect (photo on right). Congrats to Dave!

I called Paul Lederer this morning the share this exciting news and we agreed to meet at High Rock in hopes of relocating this splendid creature. Unfortunately, the sighting was on June 25 so we weren't holding too much hope that we'd find it but had to try regardless!

Evidence of this very wet weather we've had for about 2 week was abundant on the trails! Streams were flowing, mushrooms were starting to break the surface of the soil, the Indian Pipes were blooming! Paul and I were both agreeing that early summer is truly a magical time to be in the field!

Our first stop was at Pump House Pond were there were eastern wood peewees, catbirds and robins calling from the woods and occasionally flying over the pond. The morning was generally overcast and only in the low 70's which kept most of the dragonfly action low. At this point there were only a few Blue Dashers fluttering around.

As we stood there chatting a snapping turtle surfaced in the middle of the pond. Seeing us standing on the deck, the turtle swam strait towards us! Paul commented that people fishing from the desk probably feed him. Luckily for me the turtle was indeed cooperative and posed for some shots!

After a few more minutes we decided to move on and check the other ponds in the immediate area. The sun started to break through the clouds and temperature was finally getting around 80, so the Blue Dashers were starting to come out. After satisfying our selves that the Spatterdock Darner was not to be found at the other two ponds we headed back to Pumphouse Pond.

While looking over the pond from the bridge/damn I noticed a purple and blue damselfly almost at our feet! I got Paul on to it and he immediately IDed it as a Variable Dancer (Agria fumipennis), making the note that he was expecting to see this species at this location.

After snapping off some shots of the dance we returned to the observation deck. Finally, the sun was out and the dragonflies were active! As always Blue Dasher were the most numerous with only a few slaty skimmers every once in a while. A short while after a large darner came flying in! Could this be our Spatterdock?

Both Paul and I attempted to get the best possible views of this darner before making any calling. We came to the conclusion that neither of use had seen any blue, and although the eyes were blue the abdomen was black with green rings...making this a Swamp Darner. Although interesting, and one of the species I am most curious about learning more about, it wasn't the "needle" we were looking for.

We spent another 15 minutes at Puphouse Pond during which we found a 12-spotted skimmer, numerous slaty skimmers and eastern amberwings. Figuring that we might as well check Hour-glass Pond before we go, we had a look... A little blue heron was actively hunting in the swampy pond! They are often found here and always fun to watch.

A quick stop was made at Loosestrife Swamp on the way back to our cars. I had arrived a few minutes before Paul, so to kill time I took a walk to the swamp. On this walk, I notice this crazy looking black-and-white bug fluttering between the vegetation and had no idea what it might be! Luckily, on my return with Paul the insects were still around and we were able to capture one after a few attempts.

Turns out to some species of Cranefly that holds its leg in front of it in a star shaped formation as it uses its small wings to weakly navigate between the swampy vegetation.

This Eyed Brown butterfly was also hanging out on a Buttonbush leaf the whole time we were on the boardwalk.

So, in the end all turned out well with lots of interesting observations being made. Tomorrow should be interesting with the highlight being a trip to Clay Pits!

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Rains Are Gone!

I've been kinda busy the past few days, so haven't been able to get on here for a new entry. Thankfully, the rains have ended and I've been able to get out for some dragonflies though!

Sunday morning was spent chasing down Banded Pennants at Pouch Camp, along with Jarred Sutton and Paul Lederer. Paul had been to the lake the day before and discovered that the pennants were active. Banded Pennant are a southern dragonfly who are only found in a few locations in New Jersey and downstate New York. This small population is one of two that we have on Staten Island.

We were delighted to find at least 3 female Banded Pennants ovipositing and another pair flying in a wheel. Numerous exuvia were noticed on the bottom side of pickerel weed leaves, presumably they were all Banded Pennant. Two were collected for specific identification.

The other interesting note were many Cedar Waxwings hawking insects over the lake. This behavior was also observed at almost ever other pond I visited this week. It's time for the waxwings to start nesting, so I guess they adult are actively hunting in preparation?

Sunday was actually my birthday, so natural history was limited to the morning... well, I did count dragonflies at the softball field I visited for friends' game that afternoon!

No one was around to join me for the daily adventures, so I flew solo. My hopes for finding my first Widow Skimmer drove me to visit Wolfe's Pond Park. The sun was alternating between hiding behind the clouds and showing fully, but no look was had with the Widow Skimmer. Nature also entertains though, and today's spectacle was the abundance of Eastern Amberwings (photo on Right) and Blue Dashers acting very territorial as they hovered over the surface of Wolfe's Pond. Just as they had been the day before, the Cedar Waxwings at Wolfe's Pond were busily hawking insects over the pond and perching on the trees along pond's edge.

Another goal of the day to capture photographs of dragonflies, and any behaviors I might be so luck to witness. From Wolfe's Pond I traveled back towards Tottenville to hit up some ponds in Long Pond Park. There was great dragonfly activity around Short Pond, but some where along my path I whacked into something and didn't realize it! I finally saw what happened when I looked down and saw blood covering my shin and foot... ooops...

Not fully satisfied with my haul of photographs, I decided to head over to Blue Heron Park for a visit to Butterfly Pond. After watching some of the more common species of dragonflies, I was oft excited when my "life" Dot-tailed White-face came flying into view! Luckily, he hung out for a while allowing for some photographs (on the right).

Wednesday's post is in the works......

Happy Wandering...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Windy Wednesday

Death of a LapTop! Unfortunately, my laptop has finally died, so I don't have any photos to include today. I am hoping to remedy this situation ASAP! Sigh.....

The weather decided to thwart my plans for finding dragonflies once again! Seeing how windy it was when I went to get my morning coffee, I decided to spend the morning inside reading Corbet's Dragonfly behavior and ecology textbook. Around 9:30am Jarred started texting me which prompted me to get out and see what might be around despite the wind. He wanted to see my extender (teleconverter) with extension tube mounted on a long-lens set-up, so I quickly put it together and was headed to the Conference House Park.

The wind was blowing pretty hard, and indeed dragonflies were not to be found. But, as always, nature provided us with some worth while observations. The recently restored Bluebelt waterway is one of my favorite places to look for insect in the whole park. The densely vegetated edge of the stream/marsh and the tall grasses lining the roadway attract a great diversity of all types of wildlife! Today's highlights were the Red-winged Blackbirds busily going about their lives in the tail phragmites and from the tops of the shorter trees poking above the grasses.

After spending a few minutes observing some frogs from the bridge, we decided to visit the water's edge to investigate what creatures might be hanging around. Upon first glance we both noticed a large school of baby Killie fish so close to land, and in water so low that their backs were almost breaking the surface! A heron or egret would have had a feast!

Closer inspection revealed the presence of multiple damselflies resting on the duckweed floating on the water's surface. A Belted Kingfish came flying in and alighted on a tree across the wetland for a moment or two before letting loose her rattling call as she took off again towards the saltwater.

When we first arrived at water's edge, I took note of a brown object plastered to the top of a pickerel weed leaf a few feet from shore, but distracted by the damselflies didn't take a closer look. Over the course of about 15 minutes I could discern a small change in the size and shape of the brown object. Crouching down and balancing carefully lest I slip into the water, I could see that the brown object I'd taken for a leaf was actually a DRAGONFLY! Seems that an Eastern Amberwing had began to emerge and somehow got its wing stuck to the leaf. The d-fly could be seen gasping for air to inflate its wings and abdomen. Unfortunately, as the left-set of wings got longer, the more deformed and folded its right-set of wings.

Photo of me setting up a shot of the teneral amberwing. Photo by Jarred Sutton.

The time of emergence or transformation from nymph to adult is possibly the most risk filled hours of a d-fly's life-cycle! The compacted, soft bodied adult which is enclosed in the shell of the nymph breaks out and starts to gulp down air to expand out it's body. At this time, their exoskeleton is soft, and the wings have to expand. If there is some type of a obstruction as the wing expands it will become misshapen, and rendered useless! This was unfortunately what we were watching happen to the Amberwing.

After a few more moments at Conference House Park, Jarred and I made a quick stop at Long Pond before heading over to see Claire at Clay Pits Pond Park. At Clay Pits, we took a brief walk to Sharrotts Pond where once again the wind was just too much for dragonflies to be around. There were a good number of tree, barn and northern-rough winded swallows hawking insects over the pond! A number of Eastern Forktails and an unidentified species of Damselflies were hovering low in the spadderdock!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Staten Island Year of Birds

For the past year and a half, I've been posting a single photo of each species of bird that I've been able to capture when out birding around Staten Island to my Flickr account. Balancing time look for "good birds" and time looking for the "good shot" are in direct opposition to each other, and at heart I'm a birder before a photographer, so only about half the species seen each year were photographed (~103/233 last year and 64/209 so far this year). Of course, the "best" birds are always get their photos taken! :-)

I do continue to update this year's gallery when a new species is photographed, so check back every now and then.....

Last year:
2008 Staten Island Bird Gallery
This year, so far....
2009 Staten Island Bird Gallery

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Overcast and Windy Tuesday morning...

Today's goal was to survey and photograph Dragonflies for the Staten Island Dragonfly Atlas (SIDfA), a project that I am coordinating through the Section of Natural History at the Staten Island Museum. In particular, I was hoping to find Common Baskettails and Widow Skimmer.

The weather forecast was calling for rain or showers most of the day, but as fate may have it today is the first rainless day in over a week! Despite the lack of rain, the clouds were still blocking the sun and the wind was steadily blowing resulting in only a few dragonflies being active. As always, other notable creatures were observed along the way...

My quest started by meeting fellow nature photographer Jarred Sutton on the beach at Wolfe's Pond Park where he was waiting to photograph nesting Killdeer using a remote trigger system. Before heading over to chat with Jarred my attention was called to large group of Laughing Gulls and Common Terns hanging out in the tidal zone. I searched through the flocks for a few minutes in hopes of finding something exotic, but without luck. It was interesting to note the number of young Common Terns being fed by adults!

At one point some of the terns decided to herass a lonely Herring Gull picking at dead Dogfish shark(photo on right).

Upon walking up on Jarred, I noticed this Great Egret hunting along the beach just 30 feet away! The bird stayed with us while we stood around observing the gulls and waiting for the Killdeer to do something interesting. After about a half hour of standing around on the beach, we decided it was time to head to Long Pond Park in Richmond Valley for Dragonflies.

The wind wasn't any less in the woods than it had been on seashore, so hopes were faded for finding a good diversity of Dragonflies, but we were on a mission! Paul Lederer, local Dragonfly expert, reported a Common Baskettail had been seen along one of the WPA roads that run through Long Pond Park. This being a species I've never seen before, and my first chance to searching this species, I was not going to let the poor conditions lessen my determination!

One things about nature studies that you can always make interesting observations even if your target is not around! Well, today's discovery was a good number of young male and/or female Meadowhawks (Sympetrum) in the low weedy vegetation along the dirt roads! Meadowhawks are generally thought of as a later-season species, this is why the early date is worth noting.

Sympetrums are almost impossible to identify by sight when they are young or female. Specific identification of usually require microscopic investigation of the secondary genitals of males. I am still thinking about how SIDfA will handle this group.

Birds, Birds, Birds! The woods were filled with family groups or adults very actively foraging in the dense understory in certain area of the park. As we stood looking over South Long Pond, I noticed an adult Yellow-billed cuckoo foraging in the button bush and gray birch on the opposite side of the pond! The bird afforded Jarred some great looks at his life cuckoo!

A second cuckoo was calling in the distance as first continued to hop with the dense foliage. Moments later an immature cuckoo appeared in the button bush across from where we stood. We watched as it teetered on the branches over the pond, wondering if it might fall in! Alas, it made its way back towards land based vegetation.

The next family of birds we came across were Eastern Towhees. We had been hearing many calling as we walk along the dirt roads, but they were mostly staying well concealed in the understory.

Finally, as we were walking down one of the more grassy roads I heard something rustling in the poison ivy and out flew a very young towhee. The bird alighted on a nearby branch and reminded me a starling that had fallen from its nest, but differently marked. I was shocked that the bird could even fly!

The dragonfly activity picked up again as we approached our cars. The meadowhawks were the first species seen, shortly followed by some common whitetails. One the latter appearing to develop some white at the base of his abdominal segments. No baskettails or clubtails but a wonderful morning altogether!

Monday, June 15, 2009

1st Posting


My name is Seth Wollney. I am life long Staten Islander, and have been an vivid observer of Staten Island's Natural History my whole life thanks to the prompting of my father and grandfather. Growing up, my interests mainly focused on reptiles, pond life, seashore life and local history. Much time was also spent learning about the basics of local geology, plants and the Lenape Indians. In my late teens, I begin leading walks at Blue Heron Nature Center and shortly after that starting my work at the Staten Island Museum, I quickly found out about birds! Over the past 8 years my love of birds has taken me to Canada, New Hampshire, California, Arizona and North Carolina, in addition to many day trips around New York State and New Jersey.

Thanks to multiple influences I have taken up the study of Staten Island's insects! This newly found interest is greatly aided by my recent dive into nature photography.

I created this blog to post photographs and some notes about the wildlife and plants from around Staten Island, NY and further afield once in a while!