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!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Back from the southern states

After spending a beautiful week wearing shorts, tee shirts and sometime sandals, it's back to the freezing temps on New York.  I picked up my big year efforts this afternoon by hitting up some "birding-by-car" locations on the island's east and south shore.  Unfortunately, I haven't put up gloves back in coat pockets, so I wasn't about to go searching for songbirds.  Hopefully, the snow won't continue on Saturday and we'll be able to get back out.  Sunday, Dave and I will be out counting waterfowl as part of the NYSOA Waterfowl Count.  Keeping my fingers crossed something unusual will be around.....  time will tell.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Off to Florida for a week

Well, birding life does go on even during Big Years.  This next week will be spent  birding southern, western and central Florida like a madman with 3 fellow Staten Island birders... So, there will probably be some great birds on Staten Island this week :-)    

I will be keeping my blogging going while in Florida.  Please visit the "Florida Adventure 2013" page to see daily updates with photos!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday birding

The morning started at Great Kills where the fog made for limited visibility, so there was limited birding.  We did have the bunting, larks, both loons and the other waterfowl mentioned in previous posting.

From Great Kills, Dave and I had to pick between heading to the south shore or going to Fort Wadsworth to chase Catherine Barron's razorbill from yesterday.  Wanting better looks at a Staten Island razorbill, and to have my first post-Sandy visit to the park, it was off to Ft. Wadsworth.  In about ten minutes we were parking and headed towards the beach.   Catherine reported yesterday's razorbill was near the jettie/pilings, so Dave and I walked as far as this structure without seeing any razorbills.  As we approached the jetty at the "corner" of the island, I spotted a small dark bird a few feet from the jetty. Up went the binoculars right onto a razorbill!  Sweet!  I immediately announced the bird, but by the time Dave got on the bird he saw the wing tips and feet slipping under the surface.  So, we continued to look around at the scaup when Dave says, "Razorbill over here now".
Quickly, spinning to my left just as Dave said, "Just dove"... d'oh!  But after a few moments it popped up again, about two-thirds the way to the base of the bridge.
A quick e-mail to the SINaturaList to let everyone know the bird was there and off to the south shore.  I was in a rush due to limited time, so I skipped txting everyone, knowing that at least a few would get the e-mail on their smart phones and others would check their e-mail soon enough to be able to chase the bird.
(Later Ed Johnson posted he had gotten the bird, his 300th on the island!).

Following a tip from Mike Shanley, Dave and I visited Clay Pit Pond, another off-the-usual-path location.  We quickly looked around the nature center but saw nothing but starling and carolina wrens.  But!  As we were walking along the grassy edge of Sharrotts Rd, there was a loud "POP" sound.  Reflexively looks towards the sound, which came from the intersection of Sharrotts and the service road, this is what I saw.  The front driver's-side wheel of a blue pick up truck shock violently for a split second then came flying completely.  The truck continued driving without the wheel for a second before stopping, but the wheel continued another sixty feet down Sharrotts Rd.  The wheel finally stopped when it hit the railroad tie-curb and flew into the rail fence.  The driver pulled the truck off the road.  I asked if he was ok and he said he was fine and walked over to retrieve the wheel.  I walked to the intersection to pick up the hub cap and placed it on the bumped of the truck.  After asking if the driver required further assistance we were off.

With time really not available for one last stop, but feeling that there was an easy tic to pick up today, we stopped in parking lot to view the Outbridge Crossing.  Luck was on our side again.  The peregrine falcon who hangs around the bridge was sitting on top of the island-side tower, check!  And with that, we called it day...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Little time, nice day

With the couple of hours available to me to pursue my big year goals, I decided to check out Wolfe's Pond and beach area in hopes of some gulls, rare waterfowl or songbird in the dunes.   I started off with a scan of Wolfe's Pond from Holten Ave. The pond was swollen with waters from the high tide compounded by the run off from last night's steady rain, so the sand bar on the south end was not exposed.  Without the sand bar, all of the gulls were huddled on the spit of land nearest Holten Ave.  This made an easy check of the flock from my car.  A quick glance over the flock and I could see they were "all" ring-billed gulls.  Thinking of New Jersey's first mew gull found on Thursday at Spruce Run, I thought it was be prudent to double check they were indeed all ring-billed gulls and nothing was hiding within them.  Besides the very long shot of mew gulls, there are other gulls that might mix into a flock on ring-billed.  Most common of these are Bonaparte's gull, and a little rarer would be black-headed gull and even rarer still, a little gull.
Well, the second (or third) scan did turn up a Bonaparte's gull, check!

To back track a little bit... Just before leaving work yesterday, Ed received a call from Ray Matarazzo who reported Bonaparte's gulls and even some winter greater yellow-legs at Wolfe's Pond yesterday.  So, my plan to chase another bird changed over to stopping at Wolfe's on my way home.  Unfortunately, by the time I made it the pond, the rain had started and viewing was difficult.

Back to today... After the stop on the side of the pond I headed to the beach to check what waterfowl was around.  Again, hoping a species seen in Jersey would turn up here.  In particular, I was hoping that a western grebe would be around.  For a few years in the mid-2000's, Wolfe's Pond and the fishing pier at Sharrott's Ave were the most reliable spots in the state to find a visiting western grebe, but none have been found in the last few years.  Always have to hope though!  So, down the beach I walked, stopping to scan the bay now and then.   The most interesting birds was a flock of 22 killdeer resting on the beach.  On bay, there were red-breasted merganser, common and red-throated loons, horned grebe, common golden-eye and bufflehead.  I walked back to my car along Purdy Place, where nothing but canada geese and starlings were seen in the fields.

Within no time left for birding, and at least one addition made to the year list, it was time to head home...

I'm leading a walk at Great Kills Park tomorrow from 9am-11am, and birding with Dave afterwards, so crossing fingers some good birds will be around.... ("good bird" right now is defined either by a rare bird or a year-bird)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Looking forward to this weekend

After striking out on year-birds this past Tuesday, being ill on Wednesday, and working a full-day on Thursday and today, I am really itching to get out this weekend.  There's been a good number of Western Grebe's around the east this year, and given that this species was showing up on Staten Island with such regularity we almost started considering it annual, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that one will show up this year!

Well, I did get a report yesterday of a special crepuscular bird that I'm going to try for on the way today... crossing finger, toes and nose for this chase!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Plus 2 Sparrows

Being Monday, my usual birding buddies were at work, so I ventured out for the morning by my lonesome.  With the list of possibilities growing smaller, I thought it would be a good time to hit up some I haven't visited yet this year (week).  My first stop was Mount Loretto Unique Area in Pleasant Plains/Prince's Bay.  The activity was pretty light with just a hand full of song, tree and white-throated sparrows and a few Carolina wrens responding to pishing.  Over the bay there were just brant, black duck, and some buffleheads off shore, so I headed up towards the lighthouse. On the way down the hill, I turned onto the trail to visit the small pond at the base of the hill.  As I pished, a few tree sparrows came flying up but there was also a smaller bird... what could it be?  Focusing my binoculars, I saw the light orange cap and white eye ring of a field sparrow, check!

After checking the small pond, walking over to the ponds along Cummingham Rd, it was time to go and check Wolfe's Pond.  As I scanned the flock of gulls and checked out the single green-winged teal on the pond, a truck came pulling up next to me.  Glancing over I saw it was Jeff Stetson, so I rolled the window down and we chatted for a while.  Once we parted ways, I started off to Great Kills Park to see what was around today.

I thought with the nice weather it would would be a great day for a walk out to Crooke's Point.  The point has always held rarities for those willing to do the walk in winter so I was hoping for something good.  Walking long the edge of the beach and the dune vegetation has a whole new meaning post-Sandy.  The once sharp division between sand and dune plants has been obliterated, and although varying in the distance, the beach sands now reach deep into the once grassy dunes.  Scanning the vegetation also reveled that the wrack-line from Sandy seemed to follow the line of densest thickest of bayberry stand.  It will be interesting to see how the beach restores its self.  Well, back to the birds...

There were numerous yellow-rumped warblers, tree sparrows and cardinals in the dunes, but even more surprising were the dozen or so northern flickers scattered around.  Scanning the bay I saw the usual buffleheads, horned grebes and a red-throated loon, in addition to the expected gulls.  Turning back to the dunes, I walked a few feet down a trail and was a sparrow land in a bayberry about thirty feet away.  Sitting there was another year-bird, a swamp sparrow!     After a little more searching I started back towards the car.  I checked the mud flats and looked through the scaup again, but they all had their heads tucked under wing so I  wasn't able to pull out the black scoter.  Feeling tired and needing a break after a week of being out every day, it was time to head home.   Plus two today, bringing the total to 89.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Slow down Sunday

Well, the rate of finding year-birds is slowing down as the days progress and I tic off more of the "expected" birds.  Come to think of it, none of today's year-birds were expected, besides (maybe) the hawk.  So, the day started off with picking Dave up from the train station and grabbing breakfast.  We visited a few locations around the south shore, then thought a spin through the cemetery would be a good idea.  A single tree swallow as seen landing on the icy pond to drink from thawed edges.  Just as we started to leave a text from Anthony came in reporting white-winged crossbills about 300 feet from where were at that moment.  Quickly parking the car and getting geared up we ran to find Anthony.  Unfortunately, by the time we got there the crossbills had flown, and all we saw of them was a photograph Anthony snapped.  At least they are still around, so my hopes are not dashed yet!

While looking for the crossbills, I did pick up a half-unexpected winter wren.  Yes, the species name is winter wren, this is not a reference to a wren in winter.  Despite the name, we sometimes do not see them until March when migration starts.  After this momentary excitement, it was time to move on.

Dave and I hit a few more south shore locations then went to Great Kills Park to meet with Mike Shanley.  We searched for the longspur again, but no luck.  There were A LOT of dog walkers around today, so the flocks kept moving around the field but we were able to ID all the birds present.  Mike and I checked the scaup flocks for the black scoter which was seen again yesterday afternoon.  Unfortunately, we came up empty and it was time to go.

Back to the cemetery we went with hopes of crossbills dancing in our minds.  Again, we weren't to find the targets, but for our efforts we added two year-birds! The first year-bird was spotted when we heard Tom St. Pierre yell out, "BLACK VULTURE".  We all quickly spotted the bird and put binoculars to our eyes, check!  This is a species that was considered rare on Staten Island until about 6 years ago.  Since then they have become very common, even nesting at least twice in the last four years.

The next year-bird was found once again by Tom.  A hawk came flying across the field and landed in a tree.  Tom pointed to the spot and after a few seconds of looking at the bird in poor lighting conditions we could see it was an adult red-shouldered hawk, check!  After a moment, it took flight into better light giving us great views of it's red shoulders. Then it was time to head to the west shore.

The trip back up the west shore was for Dave to try for some of the tics I got yesterday.  Unfortunately, we looked at the side of North Mound in Freskills from Wild Ave but came up short on the rough-legged hawk.  Dave still needed pintail and green-winged teal, so up to Gulf Ave.  Here we had better luck, from the car we could see pintail.  Getting out for a scan of the creek, we also found about 20 green-winged teal, a pied-billed grebe, a pair of hooded merganser, a pair of ruddy ducks and a half dozen more pintail mixed into the about 70 Canada geese sitting along the edge tidal zone of the creek.  With these final checks made, it was time to call it a day.

Only three year-birds for the day, so the rate is slowing but with luck and effort, I should be able to hit my first marker of 100 species before the end of January.  I'm hoping this goal will be meet in the next nine days before I head for a week long birding adventure in Florida...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Great Saturday, if a little cold...

My birding buddies decided to take a trip to New Jersey today, but due to my big year efforts I stayed on the island... very glad I did!  Despite a slow start this morning, I've added more species to the year list than any other day this year (it is only January 4th, of course). With a little luck on some chases, I ended the day with 10 new species for a year total of 84!

I started the day along Page Ave hoping for field sparrow or maybe a good gull on the beach.  Alas, there were only white-throated sparrows and our usual 3 species of gulls on the beach.  My next stops were along Bayview Ave which runs along the western edge of Lemon Creek.  The first stop at the each turned up just the usual suspects.  The next stop was at the top of Lemon Creek where swamp sparrows have been seen in previous winters.  After a few minutes of pishing and searching, nothing.  From the top of a nearby sweet gum tree came a familuar laughing call of an American robin, check!  First year-bird of the day was located and I was left wondering where I should go next.  Just as I was thinking about my next destination, I received a text-message from Anthony Ciancimino say, "Come to cemetery if you need tree swallows".

Within 4 minutes I was pulling into the cemetery.  Almost immediately I saw the two tree swallows flying over a frozen Perpendicular Pond. Oddly, as I pulled up to park, the swallows were actually landing on the ice.  I joined up with Anthony, who was standing a few feet from the pond's edge, and he reported that the swallows had been landing on the ice since he first saw them.  Mostly, the swallows were trying to drink from the unfrozen seem between ice and mud at the edge, so I walked to the edge and pushed some ice with the toe of my shoe so some water was exposed.

After the swallows, Anthony and I took a walk around the cemetery in hopes of finding me a few more year-birds.  For all our efforts, I was only able to add American goldfinch to the year-list. While Anthony and I were walk, Mike Shanley texted me and we made plans to hit up some spots along the west shore.

Keeping a keen eye while driving along the West Shore Expressway, I picked up a flock of common grackles flying over the highway, check!  Mike and I met in the Wendy's parking lot and I hopped into his car to start our hunting.  The first target bird was a light-morph rough-legged hawk reported yesterday afternoon by Jeff Stetson and Tom St. Pierre.  Pulling up to Schmul Park, we admired the recent renovations to the play ground.  We then found a good vantage point at the edge of the phragmite and set up the scope.  While waiting for the rough-legged hawk, we picked up American kestrel, Savannah sparrow, and northern harrier (marsh hawk).  After a good 20-minutes wait we finally saw a large hawk with a medium length tail hoovering over the side of North Mound.  Scope and binoculars up and on the bird!  Indeed, there it was, a light-morph rough-legged hawk!  A very good bird for the island, and the first I've seen here in 3 years.   With our target found and a few extra species to boot, it was time to move on.

Our second target was northern pintail, another species reported yesterday by Jeff and Tom.  This time the birds were seen along Gulf Ave, very near where I had the redpolls two days ago.  We stopped at Geothal's Bridge Pond on the way to Gulf Ave.  Nothing was on the pond, but as Mike spoke to his wife on the phone, I spotted an adult bald eagle soaring very high in the sky.  Pausing for a moment, Mike looked up and got on the bird.  On to find some pintails...

Our first spot along Old Place Creek turned up just a few gadwall and Canada geese, so on we went.  Finally, we came across a bend in the creek were a large mixed flock of waterfowl was hanging out.  Almost before we closed the doors Mike calls out "pintails" and I got right on them.  At that same moment we saw two smaller ducks.  Right as Mike said, "what are those", I called out, "green-winged teal!".  Two year-birds with one scan!   Looking a little further down the creek reveled about half dozen green-winged teal and ten or so more pintail mixed into the geese.  Feeling satisfied with ten new species for the day, I was ready to call it quits so we headed back to my car.  On the way, Mike talked me into a walk near Butterfly Pond.  Meeting back up at the pond, we took a quick walk and found nothing really happening at all.  With that the day was done... still a few more common species to look for tomorrow.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Plus 6

My first "year bird" today was a cooper's hawk chasing pigeons and starling around St George while I was taking a smoke break at work.   Feeling the urge to get out this afternoon, I left work a little early and headed off to Great Kills Parks.  My goals were to check for Lapland longspur among the flocks of snow bunting and horned lark and scan the scaup flock in hopes of relocating a female black scoter which was seen yesterday.

As I drove down Buffalo St, a pair of turkey vultures came gliding across the road, check!  From the parking lot I could see the big flocks of bunting and lark wheeling around the field near the play ground.  After zipping up and getting my gloves on, it was time to start scanning.  The first few passes through the flocks reveled only bunting and larks, but on the other side of the field I saw another birder with his binoculars so I started off towards him.  Scanning the flocks resumed after a few minutes of chatting, and within moments there it was, my year longspur!  See the below photo of the longspur mixed into snow bunting.

Once I got the other birder on the longspur, it was time to get moving on.  Checking my phone, I saw a missed call from Isaac Grant, so I returned the call.  Isaac was at Snug Harbor looking at a small group of american pipits and I told him of the longspur to which to responded that he'd be heading down to look for it.  Wanting to hang with Isaac (and his scope), I decided to check the flock of scaup.  Carefully scanning the scaup flock came up short of scoter but there was another duck, a much lighter color and slightly larger hen of some sort.  She turned and lifted her head, then tucked her head under wing and I saw the classic profile of a canvasback!   Also, while standing at the salt flats, I found a ruddy turnstone picking around the rocks.

Still having some time to kill before Isaac arrived, I thought it would be a good chance to head to Crooke's Point to see if I could find either field sparrows or yellow-rumped warbler.  After few minutes of pishing and walking the dunes, a yellow-rumped warbler came popping up, but I was getting cold and started off the car.  Field sparrows are cool, and a year bird, but not having frost-bitten fingers is better.

Finally, Isaac arrived and we quickly relocated the longspur and headed to the salt flats for a closer look at the scaup flock in one last effort of the black scoter.  Unfortunately, even with the Kawa scope we didn't find the scoter, but Isaac got his year canvasback, sanderling, turnstone, and gannet.

From Great Kills, Isaac and I headed to Page Ave where there wasn't too much activity as we parted ways.  Six new year birds today!  Not a bad haul for the afternoon.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Redpolls on the way home

While driving home from work along Gulf Ave on Staten Island's west shore, I noticed a flock of about a dozen small birds on top of a birch along the side of the road.  As I pulled over, the flock took flight and I took a deep breath.  Luckily, they actually landed in another birch tree much closer to the road. Thinking that none of our "usual" birds would, expect maybe goldfinch, would behave in such a manor, I quickly grabbed my binoculars from the passenger seat and from the car I could see they were REDPOLLS!   Bingo!

Common redpoll are a "northern finch" which every few years makes large scale irruptions southward when the food up north is scanty.  This is one such year.  So far, Mike Shanley has been the only one to report redpoll on Staten Island this year, but there are sure to be more seen.

Here's a really blurry and cropped photo I was able to get with my point-and-shoot (need to get my 30D in my car for just such happenings)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Start of the Big Year! Part 2

The day continued with a stop in St. George to look for the Cape May warbler, which Isaac hasn't reported in a few days.  After five minutes of searching without luck we decided it was time to move along.  Next stop was Ft. Capidano Blvd to see if any crossbills were around.  Of course, the other target along this road was Staten Island's countable population of wild turkey.  These were easily seen as we passed Midland Ave.  Unfortunately, Midland Beach remains closed due to Sandy damage, so we were only able to very the pines from sidewalk.  Continuing with out lack of luck starting with the warbler, we did not find any crossbills.  They have been around lately, so I'm sure we'll come across some sooner or later.  Our consultation prize were red-breasted nuthatches.

Great Kills Park and some "tundra birds" were next on the list. Much to our delight, a mixed flock of snow bunting and horned lark were grazing in stripe between the parking lot and Buffalo St.  Thankfully, we were able to sit in the warm car while we scanned through the flock for any longspur which may also be mixed into a flock.  After a few minutes we notice that there were two additional flocks of tundra birds on the lawn around the play ground.  Finally, we got out of the car and scanned these flocks as well.  Still no longspur, heading on to the salt flats...

Many gulls and ducks were sitting in the exposed tidal zone and Dave and Mike located a single killdeer on the peat beds.  We had been hoping for tree swallows Dave and I saw on Saturday, but they didn't seem to be around on Tuesday.  We did find a distance northern gannet flying out over the Raritan Bay.

The day ended with meeting back up with Isaac for a scan of the Raritan Bay from Page Ave.  After scoping the bay for a while we took a walk through some nearby woods.  As we stood at the edge of a wetland listening for any birds calling in the twilight, Isaac got us on the whistling of a woodcock's wing as it performed a poorly timed display flight.  This signaled species number 64 and the last new bird for the January 1st Big Day.   Not a bad number to start the big year, and leaves some winter species to look for until spring migrants start showing up in about two months time.  Let's see what surprises the winter holds... 

First chase of the Big Year

Thanks to text-message from Dr. Veit alerting me of a razorbill off Wolfe's Pond beach, I was able to run down and get my first 'Staten Island Lifer' of the year in addition to two other new species for the year.   A life bird is a species that a birder has never seen before.  In the case of a razorbills, I've seen them before but never on Staten Island, therefor it's a Staten Island Lifer.  The other two species I added to the year list were long-tailed duck and sanderling.  Despite scanning the gulls, I couldn't find any thing different....

Start of the Big Year! Part 1

With much anticipation, I got out of bed around 7:30 a.m. with one question burning in my mind, what will be my first bird of my Big Year?   In prior years a European starling would inevitably be my first bird despite my best efforts, but with 2013 being my big year, I wanted this year's first bird to be a native bird.  To make my wishes come true this January 1st, I simply opened my window and with out looking at the sky to avoid any starlings that might be flying around, I pished a little and without waiting a northern mockingbird responded and my first tick of the 2013 list was made!

Keeping our long time tradition, Dave Eib, Mike Shanley, Isaac Grant and I spent the first day of 2013 "doing a big day" on Staten Island.  The day started with picking up Dave from our usual meeting location at the Tottenville Train Station.  Our first scan of the rocky shoreline between the end of Bentley St. and Angelina's Restaurant at the end of Ellis St revealed only American wigeon, a common winter resident of the island, but not the real prize that has hanging out along the shoreline, a Eurasian wigeon!   Thankfully, after a couple more minutes of scanning, and ticking off some more native species, we finally located the Eurasian wigeon... the first "good" species of 2013!

After ticking off some waterfowl in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, it was time to head to get some woodland birds. We noticed that hundreds of gulls and waterfowl were taking flight along the beach as we pulled up to a red light at Hylan Blvd and Sharrotts Ave.  This usually only means one thing, a raptor, most likely an eagle was cursing somewhere nearby.  Quickly pulling the car to the side of the road, putting it in park and grabbing by binoculars, I got right on a large bird and in a moment in banked and I could clearly see it was a 4th year bald eagle!  Unfortunately, Dave couldn't get on the bird before it flew east, but little did we know at the moment that this would be the first of three bald eagles we'd come across today.

After this Dave and I preceded to make some quick "birding by car" stops to check off some of the easily located songbirds and waterfowl around the south shore.  Working up an appetite, but stopped to get breakfast sandwiches and coffee and decided it was time to start making our counter-clockwise trip around Staten Island.  While planning this day's adventure, I was contemplating the strategy we would take... do we try to build the biggest list possible? or do we hit up some of the spot which aren't part of the usual route?   Finally, I made the choice to visit some of the less visited location in hopes that maybe a goodie will be hanging out. A "goodie" being either a rare species or an out-of-season species.

Leaving Tottenville we headed up the west shore to investigate the marsh around Sawmill Creek.  Our hopes were to find a northern harrier, kestral, etc but after a few moments of scanning over the fields at the GATX property (the land that was being looked at for a Nascar track) our hopes were dashed due to the lack of any bird activity.  So, we pulled to the end of River Road to scan the marshes before heading off to Silver Lakes.  Our luck was a little better here when a single pine siskin flew over and moments later, three mute swans came flying-by.  Off to Silver Lake and Clove Lakes to tick off waterfowl...

While checking out the marsh on the west shore, I got a call from Mike Shanley saying he was on his way to Silver Lake and would meet up on the walk away in about a half-hour.  Dave and I had one more stop to check for canvasback at the Van Pelt cover before heading to meet Mike.  Walking down to the edge of the water all Dave and I could see were gulls and gadwall in the cove.  After a few minutes of scanning around and hoping canvasback would show them selves it became clear that there were no canvasback and it was time to leave.  As we walked back up to Richmond Terrace, I noticed a large metal spike projecting upwards from a railroad tie and though that would be painful to fall on.  Well, as fate has it, right at that moment I tripped on some roots and tumbled to the ground.  Luckily, I fell between the large spike and a rusty old pick-ax head and was able to stand up and brush my self off.

Reviewing the logistics and roadways we needed to take in terms of the quickest route possible, I decided it would be quickest to stop at Schoenien's Ice Pond and Clove Lake, a good locations for waterfowl, before heading over to Silver Lake.  Our stop paid off with a coot, a ruddy duck and northern shovelers.  One coot was even walking around on the grass near the bridge on Clove Lake... on to Silver Lake finally.

As we stepped out of the car, I felt a vibration in my jacket pocket that signaled a text-message had arrived.  Quickly taking my phone out of my pocket I saw it was from Mike, "dozen redpoll just flew over heading into Silver Lake golf course". Pffff... one of the best birds to tick off on the first day of any year, missed by minutes!  As Dave and I walked down the hill from Forest Ave to Silver Lake, we were reviewing where else we need to go and what we needed to get to fill out the day's list.  Upon reaching the walkway at the edge of the reservoir, we quickly found about a hundred northern shoveler with a few ring-necked duck lining the northern shoreline...check, check!

At last, we can upon Mike scanning the waterfowl at gulls resting and foraging on the large-side of Silver Lake.  He had just had pied-billed grebe mixed into some Canada geese on the far end of the lake, so I asked to get on the scope and find one.   I couldn't locate the little bird at that distance, but I did see a double-crested cormorant come flying in, check!  After a moment, I let Dave get a look at the cormorant so he could count it for the year and asked again about the grebes.  Dave quickly responded, "there one right here" and in the next minute a little pied-billed grebe came to the surface, check!  While standing and scanning Dave called out, "Raptor" and we all got on the bird and once it banked around we saw the bright red tail of an adult red-tailed hawk, check!  After that it was time to go to Isaac's house in St. George to see if the Cape May Warbler was still around.