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!