Saturday, September 3, 2016

Back with an Update

Well, I've been away awhile, haven't I?

Just because I haven't been writing doesn't mean I haven't been birding. To prove my point, here are a bunch of photos.
  • All Over Queens, May 22 We took our NYSYBC Big Day on a second run, following the same route. Best bird: Worm-eating Warbler, Little Blue Heron. Total: 68 species, tying our count form 2015.
Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow
Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo
  • Nickerson Beach and Lido Beach Passive Nature Area, May 29 Some spring migrating shorebirds, and of course terns, skimmers and oystercatchers at Nickerson.
Black Skimmer

  • Nickerson Beach again, August 9 The terns had fledged and were learning how to fish. The skimmers had recently hatched and were very cute.
Black Skimmer Chick
Black Skimmer

Common Tern
Common Tern
  • Jamaica Bay Shorebird Festival, August 20 Shorebirds. Some other things too.

Short-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull

I've also updated the Photos page. Check it out!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Politics and Birding: 2016 Primary Edition

Yes, I am going to talk about politics.

I am aware that politics can be a touchy subject and I certainly don't want to offend anyone, but the inescapable truth is that there are political issues that directly affect birds and the people who watch them. Not the least of these is Global Warming, which the two leading Republican candidates firmly refuse to acknowledge the existence of. If birders stand up politically for the issues that matter to us, we can make a difference.

And that being said, I feel as a birder that the best candidate to address the environmental and bird-related issues plaguing our country today is Bernie Sanders. Bernie acknowledges that climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet and has a comprehensive plan to combat it, not to mention a strong record of voting for the environment in the senate.

Not to mention Bernie was endorsed by an actual House Finch.

A House Finch endorses Bernie Sanders

So I urge you to join the growing number of birders who are proud to support Bernie Sanders for president. Birders can show their support for Bernie by using the hashtags #Birders4Bernie and #BirdieSanders (also use #FeelTheBern and #Bernie2016 to connect with a wider group of Bernie supporters). You can volunteer and contribute to the campaign and call potential voters. But most importantly, Vote For Bernie, both in the general election in your state's primary or caucus!

The birds will thank you for it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Birdy Site Update!

Greetings kind Birdy Site readers!

I know I haven't written here in a while. I'm sorry, I know you've all just been sitting around waiting for me to put up some new material. Unfortunately, I haven't had a whole lot of time for birding lately, but I'll bring you up to date on what I have done since January 1, 2016.

On my birthday (January 7), I got out to Flushing Meadows Corona Park--the site of the Queens World's Fair--to track down some rarities. I managed to turn up the pre-reported Cackling Geese but missed the two rare sparrows (Clay-colored and Lark) that had been sighted in previous days. I also found a lone Snow Goose among a flock of approximately 800 Canada Geese.
Hey, look at this!

Cackling Geese
Remember that big storm the Northeast got in January? I took advantage of the time off to set up a makeshift bird blind in my yard and shoot the birds at my feeders. It took quite a while to perfect the design, but the result was worth it:
I literally took this from behind a PVC frame wrapped in garbage bags.
I also finally got halfway decent shots of Wood Ducks! Hooray! The birds were at my local patch/birding spot I know very well/birding spot I aggressively defend, Clark Gardens. 
Well, thanks for checking in. If you haven't already, please do submit some data to this weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count. See you in the field!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review

Once again, kind reader it's time to review the year in birding terms!

The most popular end-of-year bird blog posts are the "Best Birds of 2015" lists. Without a doubt, my best birds of the year in terms of rarity are as follows, in chronological order:

  • Seeing the Cassin's Kingbird at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn was an unforgettable experience. The bird was the 2nd state record for New York, and birders tramped from all around the Eastern seaboard to see it. Read my full coverage of the bird here.

  • Then there was the Red Phalarope that turned up at Jones Beach. I went and got the bird just as the sun was setting, after about an hour wandering in the dunes wondering where in the world I was going. Read my account of the twitch here.

  • And of course, who could forget the Painted Bunting in Prospect Park in December 2015, the bird that drew national attention and was covered by several major news outlets. As I write, the bird is still hanging around in the same spot, so if you haven't already, go see it! You can read my post about the bird here.

Of course, I have many other noteworthy memories from 2015, such as finally getting the Snowy Owl, attending the New York Birder's Conference and doing a fundraising Big Day for the New York State Young Birders Club.

But I was happy to end the year on a positive note, taking my last birding trip of 2015 with a couple young kids who had recently gotten interested in birds. We covered the Hempstead Harbor, one of my favorite spots for winter waterfowl, and while it wasn't a spectacular day, we did turn up some interesting things, such as a rather large flock of Laughing Gulls, unusual for New York in December. 
This White-breasted Nuthatch was camera shy.

I even taught them how to digiscope! 

So that's it. Tonight at midnight, the slate will be wiped clean and every birder's year lists will stand at zero. And the next morning (or right then at midnight, if you're truly obsessive) we will encounter the magical first bird of 2016. 

Happy New Year and Good Birding to All!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Let's Talk About That Painted Bunting

I don't need to tell you that there is a Painted Bunting in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. You already know, because the bird is a celebrity. In fact, there have been several articles written in various newspapers. A Google search for "Painted Bunting Brooklyn" turns up 124,000 results.

And a Painted Bunting in Brooklyn is not the sort of thing that one just misses. So I magically recovered from a cold and went to see the bird.

Once the word is out, there is never any problem finding rarities. This is because birders are all crowded around gawking at the bird in question, normally a small brown thing that couldn't seem to care less about the attention it's getting. And as it's name suggests, a Painted Bunting is not a small brown bird.

But arriving on the scene, the bird's bright colors did not make it easily visible, as it had ducked down into some brush and not come up again. Needless to say, there was an assembled army of birders standing about and awaiting the event.

Some people came to see the bird
And the bird did indeed show up. It seemed to have perfected the art of entertaining birders, as it hopped back and forth, feeding and showing just enough of itself to keep people oohing and aahing, but staying hidden enough that people stuck around in the hopes of a better look. 

Please enjoy my gorgeous pictures, and if you haven't already, go see the bird!

What colors!
Just admire this bird's colors.
Do you think this bird has nice colors?


Monday, October 5, 2015

NYSOA Conference 2015: Clearing Out Nemesis Birds

As I write, I have just returned from Albany, New York, where the 68th annual New York Birder's Conference, hosted by the New York State Ornithological Association (NYSOA) and the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club, was held. In this post, I will not attempt to summarize each workshop and presentation, but rather I will summarize for your each birding trip I made.  Let's start on Day 1.

Day 1: October 2

I went to a trip led by a Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club member at the Albany Pine Bush. The Pine Bush is rare in that it is an inland pine barren, filled with pitch pine and scrub oak. Unfortunately on this day, it was not so full of birds. I got no pictures, but two lifers. The first was a Black Vulture--actually, three of them--soaring over the parking lot. The second was an Eastern Towhee, a bird that has artfully avoided me on Long Island. I also got a life mammal--Red Squirrel. 

Day 2: October 3

Unfortunately, the first stop of the day, Vischer Ferry Wildlife Preserve, was also largely dead. A flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted through the woods, as did a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a single Blue-headed Vireo. Teals of both species Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal--were in the water with some Canada Geese.

My only shot of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The second stop of the day was unassuming. Ann Lee Pond is a small pond surrounded by woods near Albany International Airport. This pond was low down on the list of places to go birding, and eBird data did not look very promising. However, I noticed a single Eastern Phoebe hawking insects from a fencepost the moment we pulled in. 

Moments later, giving an unmistakable "kuk-kuk-kuk" call and flying with a distinctive bounding flight, a PILEATED WOODPECKER came swooping over the field and into the woods. As this is a bird that almost never comes downstate, I enthusiastically chased it across a road, where I finally got fantastic looks of the bird clinging to a telephone pole.


On the way to this woodpecker, I encountered more birds: a Tennessee Warbler, hopping about in a tree, a Northern Flicker in another field with White-throated Sparrows, and even two Eastern Bluebirds, their rusty breasts blending with the autumn tones of the turning leaves. 

Isn't this Eastern Bluebird pretty?
Curiously, the pond itself was mostly uninhabited. A single Belted Kingfisher swooped to and fro, while Song Sparrows and the aforementioned Yellow-rumped Warblers foraged in the brush, keeping a good distance from some extremely bright Blue Jays. 

Day 3: October 4

Actually, I didn't go birding on Day 3. I drove home--or actually, I rode home, as I cannot yet drive. But here's an amusing game to play on long drives--Count the Roadside Wildlife (watch out if you are driving alone--you should probably be concentrating on the road). Here's my wildlife list for the drive from Albany County to Nassau County.

(Note: I even saw a life bird on the drive home! I've put this in boldface.)

(Another note: I saw a lot of groundhogs. I've put the exact number, in fact). 

The Wildlife List

Bald Eagle
Blue Jay
Clouded Sulphur
Cabbage White
Groundhog (17)
American Crow
Rock Pigeon
White-tailed Deer
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
European Starling
Eastern Grey Squirrel
Northern Raccoon (dead)
Ring-billed Gull
House Sparrow
Herring Gull
Canada Goose
Turtle sp.
Great Egret
Common Grackle
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin

That's 24 species. A great trip--made better by Count the Roadside Wildlife.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Whatchamacallit Bird

That title got your attention, didn't it?

I say "The Watchamacallit Bird" because to many people, this bird's name is really hard to pronounce. What everyone can agree about, though, is that a week ago, a RED PHALAROPE turned up at Jones Beach, which is really not where it's supposed to be at all. Luckily, the bird stuck around for a while, and I went to chase it eight days after it first showed up.

I knew I was in for a good evening (you get to the beach really early or really late so you don't have to pay) when the first bird I saw upon pulling into the parking lot was a small gathering of Horned Larks chasing each other around the dunes. As you may recall, I spent a lot of time at Jones Beach in the winter trying in vain to see just one Horned Lark. Seeing them in full breeding splendor, calling and engaging in aerial duels was quite a sight.
Horned Lark
Horned Lark takes a break from fighting

We (my parents and I) set off into the dunes, discovered that we were going in precisely the wrong direction, came back to the parking lot, and set off in the right direction.

We did, in fact, find the ponds where the bird had been seen. On these ponds, there were many shorebirds. The water had mostly dried up, leaving expanses of flats, which were now covered liberally in scores of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, with Killdeer running to and fro and Semipalmated Plovers tapping the ground with their feet to lure insects to the surface. Overhead, Short-billed Dowitchers wheeled into a spiraling descent to the flats.
Semipalmated Plover
Semipalmated Plover

Common Terns were flying overhead, and with them were their smaller, rare counterparts, the Least Terns. With their white wings flashing over our heads, we walked on, checking each mudflat for a red bird with a yellow bill. 

Finally, we reached a photography blind overlooking the pond where the phalarope had been discovered. I scanned it quickly with binoculars, and in the dimming light, found a rusty red bird with all the distinguishing characteristics of it's species. This small bird was, in fact, the RED PHALAROPE that had caused such stir among birders in New York. 

Truly, it's fame was well-earned. It was a breeding-plumaged female, meaning it was really beautiful. It's overall color was a bright orangish crimson, but close inspection with a scope revealed a black back streaked with white and a bright white patch on the cheek, accented by a bright yellow bill with which it probed in the mud. I hadn't the faintest idea what the bird was doing there, but it seemed perfectly at home, despite standing out visually from the browns of the other shorebirds. This bird's name, by the way, is pronounced FAL-A-ROPE. I have no idea how it got that name, but somehow it seemed to fit.
Red Phalarope

We decided to finish up the day at the Coast Guard Station. Unfortunately it was high tide, but a flock of Sanderlings scurried back and forth, chasing the waves. Here's a tip: Sanderlings have no hind toe, so if you see a Sanderling with a hind toe, start to reconsider your ID. Using this method, I pulled two Semipalmated Sandpipers out of the flock.

The Sanderlings soon departed, as did the sun. It was a fine way to end the day, as it was necessary to leave the American Oystercatchers and Laughing Gulls that lingered and head back home.

But shorebird season is just beginning, and you can bet there's more to come.