Birdday!

Totally remiss. No entries all semester. You were left hanging after several weeks of Honduran birds. No end in sight. At least you weren’t hanging off a cliff.

Completely different topic.  Especially if you are a birder in the American mid-Atlantic. You are problably well aware of #Painted Bunting, now residing at @ProspectBunting. no?  Well, now you are.

Heard about the painted bunting in Prospect Park, Brooklyn through through twitter. (Perhaps I could have head it through  vine, but  I don’t use vine, so couldn’t learn it through the grape vine, alas.)  On Thursday, I was convinced to chase it on Sunday. (The earliest and only opportunity. Talk about putting all the eggs in one basket!)

I gave fair warning that the bunting would probably vacate the premises  with my luck by Saturday.  The office seemed emptier on Friday…

So the plan  was to get to Brooklyn ($23 in tolls, with another $8 to leave!), meet up with my sister. Find  the bird. Visit my parents.

After a nightmare of confusion wherein I decided that “parking on the southwest side was just like parking on the northeast because how  big  can the park be, really?” and my phone decided not to work while trying to load either of two maps programs and three chat programs (was also handling another issue that was time sensitive, whee!) , I eventually  made a modified plan, and found  the park.

In the park, which is lovely by  the way, (I had never been before, because Brooklyn and I do not get on.  Seriously, Brooklyn has been bad news for me!) I immediately got lost on the little jogging paths that wandered through the woods as I tried to reach  Central Ave to meet up with my  sister.

Isn’t Prospect park lovely?  These are the photos I took on the way to finding my sister.  Those  stairs were a definite mistake! Ended  up on  top of a hill looking down at the avenue I needed!

Google Maps once again saved the day. (At this point, Google Maps probably needs a superhero cloak!) I  found my way down and as I was walking towards my sister, I enacted the park of the plan entitled “find the bird!”

I. Find a birder. This individual will be obvious by their equipment. They will most likely have a long lens, and possibly a pair of binoculars tucked away  upon their body as well. (Now remember, this is New York. This means that everyone wears black and thus binoculars are harder to spot than birds!)

2. Get directions and hints.

3. Find a brood of  birders. (Unlike their normal state, they will not be brooding, but likely elated.).

4. See bird.

It all went relatively according to plan. And so we found the  bird. The end.

Okay. Fine. But I do need to head to work  incredibly soon.

We walked through the park, past some lovely water with  American Coots, Mallards, Canada Geese and an  inquisitive Mute Swan.  My sister’s response watching the coot’s  bobbing swim was, “it’s coot! (cute).”

Shortly after a detour  around the ice rink, we located a group of people clumped around clumps of dying plants. We crept up and discreetly joined their ranks. Or we were trying to until sis announced, “We found the bird paparazzi!”

The important take away from this moment is that no one likes being called paparazzi.  So we got some dirty looks.

Indifferent, she continued on, to begin  to narrate the poor bunting’s plight. Something like  “All these people taking photos of me. Can’t you guys just give me directions?! I didn’t mean  to come here. Hey, stop, with the camera now.”

The difference between my sister and all the other non-birders who were present, is that she understood this is very well a death sentence for the bird. Being my sister she hears the science side of things. And also being my sister, she’s not phased by much and says what she thinks.

While she wasn’t loud enough  to disturb the bird, she was certainly disturbing these very broody birders with  “I’m learning so much about your people!” probably didn’t go over well either.

So why do I bring her? I can usually get her to do something bird-related once a year or thereabouts. Well, to the birders reading  this I’m sure that doesn’t explain the why so:

1. She’s my sister.
2. She’s rather funny.
3. She enjoys watching birders more than she enjoys watching birds.
4. Shes awesome at spotting  birds. We make a good team. She spots them, I identify them.

So, people, well birders, were less than  impressed by her.  Fortunately, the bird spooked soon after this (How often is a spooking bird fortuitous?)  And the group reshuffled and we found ourselves in a flight of friendlier folks with better senses of fun.

Her parting shot before The Reshuffling was “You people might have a better reputation  if  you developed some levity.”  Point (even if I almost got blacklisted from birding in New York!).

We watched the bird for about an hour. It mostly hid behind asters and clumps of dried grasses. Mostly out of sight save for the swaying grass.

We pointed the bird out to a number of people who wandered by as well. Then the light faded and it got really cold and we had other commitments to commit to.

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Sis on photo duty with her iphone.  Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015 with an iphone, by my sister.

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Can you see the Painted Bunting? It’s that blurry bit nearly dead center, all green, blue and red. Oddly enough  it’s  the green that’s most easily spotted. Painted Bunting. Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015 with  an iphone by my sister.

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Sunset at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015.

Also, check out:@ProspectBunting. It may not be a GSP savvy bird, but apparently it is social media aware!

There’s also the very necessary #PaintedBunting.

And the totally worth reading coverage of what the Painted Bunting means to Brooklyn, birding and life by David J. Ringer. Since you made it all the way down here, you should go there!

Fighting the Fading Light

Florida Post #2

After birding Pine Trails Park and Tall Cypress there was a little light left in the day so we decided to pick one more green patch at random and try our luck there.   We opted for Sherwood Forest Park.

As a birding spot at sunset it was pretty much a dud.  But we did have a few gems that made the initial foray worth it.   To begin with, I found a butterfly willing to pause long enough for a photo.  Particularly due to low light levels this was an amazing feat!

 Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Florida's state butterfly.  Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius), Florida’s state butterfly. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

We also found Muscovy Ducks which totally count. (My general rule is if ebird counts it, I count it since I let ebird do all my math.)  At least that’s my take on the Muscovy Duck Debate, which I didn’t realize was a thing until both Tara and Laurence commented on it.  Although Kenn Kaufman relates an interesting insight into counting which resonated with me:

The list total isn’t what’s important, but the birds themselves are important. Every bird you see.  So the list is just a frivolous incentive for birding, but the birding itself is worthwhile. It’s like a trip where the destination doesn’t have any significance except for the fact that it makes you travel. The journey is what counts. – Kingbird Highway

Feral Muscovy Duck at twilight. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Feral Muscovy Duck at twilight. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

I can do dark, brooding ducks, too.  But to top it off, almost eclipsing my lifer of a Muscovy Duck, we came across a RBA for Florida: the Canada Goose!

Florida scenery featuring the rare Canada Goose. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Florida scenery featuring the rare Canada Goose. Photo taken on January 2, 2015 with a Nikon 3200 Sigma 500mm.

Do you see it?  Just swimming off camera to the left?  When in the Galapagos a year ago, I recall explaining how rarities work.  What is not rare at all for New Jersey can be remarkably rare elsewhere.  So in Galapagos as we patrolled beaches for birds and other things,  we were always jokingly on the lookout for a Snowy Owl (hey, they made it to Bermuda!) and a Canada Goose.  Lo and behold one year later the rare Canada Goose because a Real Thing.

In other news I’ve elected to read Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman while in Florida.   So far the insights into birding before ebird and the internet is fascinating.  As a whole the book and its story has been delightful!

Florida Total: 24
Sherwood: Forest Park: 3
New for Florida: 2
Lifers: 1

Farming for Birds

Now that the bet was on, I needed to pile on the birds.  Nothing like a little extra motivation in May.

Leaving Garrett Mountain, I headed into work for awhile to run a program introducing Daisies to birding.  I had a group of 15 girls and parents.  Collectively we located 9 species: Canada Goose, Wild Turkey, Green Heron, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and a Crow sp.   Not so bad for a First Day (hour) of birding.

After work I decided to try birding at the Celery Farm where there is neither a farm nor celery, so I don’t know where the name comes from.

The Celery Farm is a 107-acre freshwater wetland in Allendale, New Jersey, and is open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year. Volunteers from Fyke are responsible for creating and maintaining the footpaths around the preserve, the three observation platforms and the nesting boxes.

Over 240 species of birds have been recorded here, and more than 50 are known to breed here. The wetlands and deciduous woods provide habitat for many mammals, fish, reptiles and insects. – website

The Celery Farm is the second most birded, bird-diverse area in the county according to ebird data.  I had never been so on a co-worker’s recommendation I decided to finish my day there.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

A storm approaches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

The center is an open body of water along which a ~ 1 mile trail winds.  This trail switches between woodlands, a small stream, and a phragmite forest (phorest?). The day was ending, a thunderstorm was moving in, but I got a few birds.  27 all together, bringing the day’s total to 65 species, including Belted Kingfisher, Great Egret, Yellow Warbler which were new for the day.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Canada Goose checks the eggs. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Wood Ducks step away from their nest to enjoy a sunset swim. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Great Egret fishes along the shores. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

Yellow Warbler dashes and darts through the buds and branches. Celery Farm, NJ. Photo taken on May 4, 2014.

If a tree falls,

…in the woods and you’re there to witness the momentous occasion, how cool is that?   I didn’t actually see the tree, but I heard it fall while I was out birding on Thursday after the rains let up.  Two days of rain – what a relief!   I think it’s the first rain we’ve had since Easter and it was much needed!   There have been at least two brush fires in the area (and we’re not talking about Colorado or California here, it’s New York and New Jersey!)

As soon as the rain let up Thursday, I headed out to see what birds were active.  It was about 5pm so it would coincide with the natural uptick in activity.   I decided to go on foot because there’s really no good parking near where I wanted to go.  (The nearest lot is about as far as the house, so walking made more sense.)

There was some activity on the way, but nothing I didn’t see in the park, so I didn’t log it.

Getting to the entrance though was a different story!  On park lands, I could look under the bridge leading past the park to watch Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Barn Swallows swoop in and out.  I was mostly hidden by the trees along the bank so I wouldn’t disturb them.  Nearly all my photos are blurry because they’re swift swallows (not swalling swifts), but I do really like this one:

Barn Swallow reflection.

Barn Swallow reflection.

You see the lower image and think it’s the bird, but no it’s only the reflection. The actual bird is the blob on top.  Love it.  I also love how murky and plain the backdrop is; the clouds were actually working with me for once!

I headed into the park where it was hard to pick up anything due to the roar of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but peering into the marsh I did pick up a Canada Geese family and a Great Egret.

I didn’t have much luck until I reached the pool area.  At the pool, I climbed the slope so I could be at eye level with the trees, and plunked myself down for a bit to watch the wildlife. I know there’s more there than what I saw, but I am very excited by what I did see!  I got my first really good looks of a yellow warbler!

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Isn’t he beautiful? Praising the sun gods for their return no doubt.  There were other birds flitting in and out of the woods, but my next exciting visitor was the Eastern Phoebe.  It was my second chance to get a good glimpse, and my first with my camera handy!

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

Proud Phoebe of the eastern variety.

So distinguished!   I had some good views of him on the ground, and on a roof, so I’m excited that the one with the green in the background captured him the best!

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Common Yellowthroat whose name I will likely never remember.

Then my last exciting little fellow came about from some movement in the rushes below.  It took a white to spot him and longer to get his appearance on camera, but voila, a Common Yellowthroat!  And a lifer, too!   I spotted two males and one female.  It took me awhile to figure out the second was a female, but nothing else felt quite right.

After that I decided to wander away from the water in the hopes that I’d hear better, so I began moving up the mountain slope.   In the woods I didn’t have much beyond Blue Jays, and American Robins, although I did hear one American Crow fly over and come across a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

As night fell, it became more of a hike and less of a birding excursion, which is fine.  It was about two years since I had last traveled those trails so it was nice to see them again.  I wanted the one that looked over the Hudson, so it took some doing, but I did find it and was reward with my first Bald Eagle viewing of the month.  With the bluffs above the Hudson, I knew it was pretty good for Bald Eagles!   Soon the calls of the frogs, lured me onward.

At the western portion of the park, there are a number of “ponds” or artifical constructs that have since become ponds.  They’re quite lovely to hike along.  So I headed over to investigate the frog calls and picked up a Wood Duck and a Hermit Thrush.

From there I continued to the southern most portion of the park, and then after the sunset and a gentle rain began to fall, I made my way along the main trail about 1.9 miles to home.

Full Moon Hike

There are days when when I definitely have the best job in the world.  (TM)  Stayed on campus, working on thesis revisions until 2am on Wednesday before driving home.  Revised the entire thesis in about 8 hours.  Which is ridiculous at some level.  Which probably explains why I am now sick.  It started off as a sore throat, became an annoying cough, and today is a very hoarse voice and truth be told, a painful cough.  But I am still going to work because I am the only one in this morning and because there is something very bird related I need to do!

Yesterday, I went on an amazing bird-related adventure for work, which I will relate later.  In the evening, I led a 2-hour full moon hike.  Not much of a hike as the group wanted to stand and watch the things we saw.  I forget that people don’t realize how amazing all the wildlife and ecosystems around us really are – I see it all the time, and teach it all the time, so even when I’m not there I know, but most people don’t.  We saw a Wild Turkey running down a trail, watched the Red Wing Blackbirds setting up their territories, the Canada Geese come home for the night, a Great Blue Heron finding its final meal of the day, bats come out to scatter around the sky searching for insects, we heard bull frogs, spring peepers and one other species of frog wake up, spooked a deer and one other thing we couldn’t identify.  The bats swooped across the night sky and dipped into the pond creating ripples along the flat surface.  We watched the sun set and the moon rise.

Wild Goose Chase

Last Sunday, NJBIRDS reported Pink-footed Goose sightings in Bergen Co.  There have been 2-3 Pink-Footed Goose sightings confirmed in the NJ-PA region this winter. I was fortunate enough to see the first pink-footed goose early on when it appeared in Hunterdon, Co.  So, while I already have the pink-footed goose on my life list, I don’t have it on my 2013 list.  More importantly, being able to locate the pink-footed goose on my own, would further strengthen my identification skills.

The goose was spotted in Overpeck Park which I drive through on my commute to work.  Previously I thought it would make for some good birding, but hadn’t yet a chance to stop and confirm.  So following class on Monday, I headed over to the park. (The park is about a ~20 minute drive from Montclair).  I scanned the geese on the water and in the soccer field of the Henry Hoebel area, drove through “New Overpeck Park”, but no luck in spotting the goose.  When I got home and checked ebird, it turns out the goose had been there about 10 minutes before I reached the park, but was in a region I hadn’t known to check.

So on Thursday, having better done my homework, I returned to the park, beginning with “New Overpeck Park” and scanned every goose flock, every goose, every angle (almost) from the entrance to Challenger Road. I probably scanned between 400 and 500 ordinary geese.  When scanning large numbers of birds, looking for a rarity, I find it helps to count them… so I am more attentive in my scanning.  With the geese, I count the black necks.   If anyone knows other methods to improve scanning skills, by all means, please let me know!)

Nothing in “New Overpeck Park”, so I crossed the road to “Old Overpeck Park”.  This time there was no Red-tailed Hawk to entertain me with it’s landing approach in a snag while I waited for the light to turn.  I began at the soccer field where a large flock had congregated on Monday, but they weren’t present on  Thursday.   I saw a few fly in and land behind the construction. Thus, I got out my car and began walking the park.  There were a handful of geese in the water and a number on the baseball field.   I crept up to the hitter’s mound and crouched along the fence to scan the field. Walking up I had this feeling, “This time this is it! This is the time!”

No goose.  I returned to the river walk and continued toward the dog park.  There were 40-50 geese on the river.  It was difficult to scan due to the trees, but every few paces I would try.   I would also scan the sky as stragglers flew in.  Then I’d turn and scan the baseball field again from a  different angle.  I got to the bottleneck, and turned around.  Dejected I decided to scan the baseball field one more time from the bleachers.

Scan. Scan. Scan.  Finally, I saw a smaller, browner goose.  I “wooed!” and jumped for joy.  Both quite literally.  Then realized I lost sight of the goose.  I checked to see who witnessed my antics (no one) and settled to scan the flock again to find the bird.   Unfortunately I forgot to look for where the bird had been before I pulled my eyes away so I had to scan the entire flock again.  But I ultimately found the bird another 3 times.

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Pink-footed Goose from behind. Note the white contrast along feather edges. Very striking in comparison to its larger brethren.

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Pink-footed goose from the side. Smaller size is more evident. As are the pink-feet. Pink-feet! Do pink-footed goose have a preference for little pink socks?

Field Markers

  • smaller than the Canada Goose
  • pink-feet
  • back feathers appear white tinged along their edges

I found the last marker to be most helpful because how often are birds cooperative?

Species Spotted from Monday and Thursday’s Outings

    •  Pink-footed Goose
    • Canada Goose
    • Hooded Merganser
    • Common Merganser
    • Great Blue Heron
    • Bald Eagle
    • Ring-bIlled Gull
    • Herring Gull
    • Great Black-backed Gull
    • Rock Pigeon
    • American Kestrel
    • Fish Crow
    • American Crow
    • European Starling
    • Song Sparrow