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!

Piering Back Through Time

August is often a quiet birding month. If you are fortunate enough to be by the seashore or along a flyway, you can witness the beginning of the migration season as shorebirds move through. Why do shorebirds depart so early?

Well here in New Jersey, we’re quite fortunate when it comes to shore birds!  We have our endangered Piping Plovers nesting on our beaches and the Ruddy Turnstones refueling on their migration, but oftentimes don’t realize the Ruddy Turnstone’s behaviors are more typical of their family (Scolopacidae). Many of the shorebirds migrate to the far northern reaches of this hemisphere. Not sure what marketing strategies they used, but it worked. “Experience Long Days in Short & Sweet Summers”?

Goodness knows I’d response to such an advertisement.  And the shorebirds definitely do.  Take a look at the two maps below.  Gleaned from the riches of the internet, on the left we have a generalized map showing the migration pathways of shorebirds between the polar reaches.  Most of our neotropicals (sciencespeak for summer birds found in the Western Hemisphere) prefer to spend their winters in more climates with a shorter commute.  However, the shorebirds hold most of the records for long distance migration (the way Kenya produces champion Olympic runners).

  • About ~1800 species perform long distance migrations (18%).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper flies 15,000 miles one way.
  • Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica fly 11,000 miles nonstop.

Now the map on the right shows breed locations for Snow Geese.  While not a shore bird, the map depicts the preference for extreme latitudinal breeding grounds also evidenced by dozens of shorebirds.  These habitats are rich with the food resources needed by the birds. So why do shorebirds migrate so early?  Long commute.

So back to birding here in the mid-Atlantic.  August saw me house-sitting once more in New York.   While house-sitting I had a few opportunities to go a birding hotspot in the county known the “the Pier”.  It’s not wooden nor is it like a boardwalk.   It’s a one-mile road once used for military purposes now converted into a paved and tree-lined walk into the Hudson River (that generally keeps your feet dry – bonus!). This is a nice spot for ducks, shorebirds, warblers, and some raptors depending on the season.  It juts out the western shore of the Hudson River as a signal to all weary birds they can find refuge here.  Just south of the Pier is a marsh which further extends sanctuary for these feathered friends.  It’s probably the best/only shorebird birding location in Rockland county.

There have been some enviable birds seen here.  Generally not by me.  But what I’m trying to build for myself is a solid working knowledge of the usual suspects at this site so I can find the fun ones.  So the remainder of this post is the dialogue in my head as I processed and assessed these images.   It’s like a note to myself for in the future when I forget what the shorebirds look it because it happens every year.

Mallard in flight. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Mallard in flight. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

As I continue working towards improvement in bird photography, I’d like to focus on birds in motion.  (Some of this may need to wait until I get a functional camera).  I like this photo though despite the blur and shadow.   The mallards are around year-round, but I do want to try to remember to appreciate them!

Osprey on the prowl. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Osprey on the prowl. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Another fairly frequent visitor: the Osprey.  Usually if I remember to look up often enough and scan with the binoculars, I can find at least one Osprey.  Another in motion photo.  In this one, the M-shape that helps to identify the species is less evident.   I know some birders who strongly feel Ospreys must be observed for it to be considered a good day of birding.  Thus the 24th must have been a good day.

Least Sandpiper forages among large rocks at high tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Least Sandpiper forages among large rocks at high tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

And to close with some photos of shorebirds.  Which is what one particularly seeks in August.   Notorious for traveling in large groups and looking like carbon copies, shorebirds can be very frustrating to identify.   I know when taking these photos in August, my focus was on photography rather than identification.

Least Sandpiper gazes out at the tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Least Sandpiper gazes out at the tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Both the above photos featured the Least Sandpiper.  There are three small sandpipers in the region collectively known as peeps.  Please don’t eat them, they’re not as sweet as they sound!  In fact I would argue the opposite of sweet is not bitter, but frustrating!  How often is a day of birding either characterized as sweet or frustrating?   The Least is the smallest peep, but when you’re lacking a ruler and distance is an issue 1/4 inch differences don’t help!

The most obvious give away are the legs.  Take a look at the two above: yellow.  Now if in deep water, mud, or shade or poor lighting (90% of all situations +/- 5.5%) the yellow isn’t obvious.

What else stands out to me?  There seems to be a bit more of an intentional eye line, the feathers have more of a rust color, the bill seems a bit shorter?

Semipalmated Sandpiper hunkers down to wait for better times, or tides. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Semipalmated Sandpiper hunkers down to wait for better times, or tides. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Now this fellow above is different.  Legs are darker.  No discernible eye line. More like an eye spot? Brown-brown feathers.  I’d say this is a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Which I believe in the Mid-Atlantic region is the most common.  (Despite what my August collection of photos appears to indicate!)  Slightly larger, which I know from my bird guide and websites, not the photo!

Least Sandpiper scrambles at the water's edge. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Least Sandpiper scrambles at the water’s edge. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Last and least!  The Least Sandpiper here again.   Note the rust-tinges, yellow legs, eye line.   Also, it seems that the upper breast, just below the neck region is also buffier than in other sandpipers (comparison not yet available).  Note that the Pectoral Sandpiper who is better known for this feature has coloration much further down and is a larger sandpiper.

I also just really like this photo.  It’s one in a series of 5 taken moments apart and all the others are just slightly out of focus with my autofocus.  Thanks, camera.

Additional Reading:
Ecological Studies and Environmental Monitoring at Bylot Island Sirmilik National Park.
Bird Migration. Wikipedia.

Meeting at the Meadowlands II

On a Thursday early in June as I was leaving work, I was debating whether I should go birding (obviously) or go home and do research on my upcoming trip to Arizona where I would get a few days to bird.  So tough call.  As I was debating, I got a text from my birding partner in crime, suggesting we hit up the Meadowlands briefly.  Birding was meant to be.

Osprey carrying fish past the NJTP. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Osprey carrying fish past the NJTP. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

That blip against the building is an osprey.  Normally, the Meadowland photos don’t do justice to the true nature of NJ wildlands.  The wilds of New Jersey are not often tucked in far away, remote corners (as there aren’t too many of those in the state!), but in close, obvious areas such as along major American arteries.  Here you have the NJTP (New Jersey Turnpike) which connects Philadelphia and New York. Beyond these cities, it’s I-95.  Despite the high volume of traffic, this region is a thriving haven for many marsh and grassland species.

Osprey carrying fish. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Osprey carrying fish. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Here’s the same Osprey captured against the sky.  If the Osprey doesn’t care about the traffic, why should we?

Although, there was quite a bit of traffic in the sky that day.  Soon after, three Mallards flew by.

Mallards in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Mallards in flight. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

There was also avian activity closer to ground.  As we checked out the marshlands along the turnpike we heard, then located, a Willow Flycatcher.  Unlike its predecessors, this one was sitting out on a conspicuous perch.  Clearly didn’t get the memo: hide, hide, hide.

Finally got a flycatcher: Willow Flycatcher perches in the open. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Finally got a flycatcher: Willow Flycatcher perches in the open. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Wandering back, we learned that one of the Sandy-damaged meadow trails was finally reopened.  We took it as far as we could and were rewarded for our curiosity.

Marsh Wren singing in the marsh.  NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

Marsh Wren singing in the marsh. NJ Meadowlands. Photo taken on June 5, 2014.

The Marsh Wrens we’ve been hearing for some weeks now were finally visible along this trail.

Complete List:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Ring-necked Pheasant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Herring Gull
Forester’s Tern
Black Skimmer
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Willow Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

It was a lovely few hours….. easy enough to say now that I’m inside and well away from the swarms of 10,000s of gnats that infested the walkways.  But the birds were worth it. They always are.

Ducktales

The last week or so has been exceedingly busy.  Both my parents retired.  My sister and I organized a retirement party for them at the house and we did pretty much all the food preparation ourselves, so there was plenty of cooking and cleaning.  Then, we had family over to stay from out west.

However, on Wednesday, I did find some time for myself.  Wednesday evening, near sunset I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  My folks were at a retirement party and it was between thunderstorms.   Wasn’t birding, the intent was just to get some fresh air.   Just passed the townline I heard some unusual bird calls.  I was hoping quail (hope is ever eternal!).  When a lumbering vehicle drove past, it caused me to stop and listen more closely.    That’s when I realized the calls were coming from under my feet.

Ducklings trapped between the grating of a storm drain.

Ducklings trapped between the grating of a storm drain.

Three or four baby ducklings had washed down the storm drain and were swimming in the underground stream of storm runoff.  The mother duck was in the woods, frantically calling.   Heedless of the danger to myself I dropped to my knees and crouched at the side of the road where little shoulder existed on a blind bend.  The ducklings were doing their best to scale the sides of the drain, but having webbed feet rather than claws was preventing success.   I tried reaching in through the grating to scoop them in my hands and guide them upward, but the spacing of the grating preventing me from getting much past my wrist into the drain.   One little duckling made it to the bars, slipped before I could catch it, and fell back to the water.

I abandoned the walk and flew (if only!) back home to assess what duckling rescue equipment I had available.   Conclusion: I clearly need to assemble better bird rescue equipment.   I came up with a bucket (to hold the ducks), jewelry twine for lowering equipment through the grating,  a plastic basket pencil case I hoped would fit through the grating, and a plastic bag in case it didn’t.

I drove my car back to the site so that the car could shield me as I set to work.  As I pulled up, my headlights found one lone duckling standing on the white line of the road, with the same bewilderment seen on a face after emerging from some shelter after the storm.   When I parked, the duck turned and fled into the forest where the mother duck welcomed the wanderer back into the fold.

The plastic pencil case was too wide and inflexible to fit into the grating, so plastic bag it was.   I tied a stick to the bag in order to not lose the bag.   I put stones into the bottom of the bag to sink it into the water.  Conclusion 2:  I need to learn to speak duck, or universal bird language because the ducklings wanted no part of this bizarre contraption.  In fact they fled further into the storm drains.

One brave duck returned and bravely attempted to climb the sides again, even using the plastic bag and stick I provided for additional support.  As it neared the top, I was able to reach in and scoop it to safety.  I placed it in the bucket which it perceived to be Torture Round #2 until a time when it was safe to release it.

The rescued duckling.

The rescued duckling.

Now there was one last duckling, pitifully swimming around as night drew around us.  Having assessed the up did not work, this duck began exploring the canal looking for alternative means of escape.  I attempted to follow up above ground.  I would run to the next opening, peer in and listen.  Running back towards home, I accidentally spooked the mother duck off her nest as she raised her alarm cry when I drew near. At one point, I heard the little duckling approaching, but as this site was more challenging. I clapped and clapped to scare the little duckling back up the canal. It returned twice more to the first site, but had no luck scaling its way out and I had no luck with my stone-weighted plastic bag.  I played the call from all about birds hoping to draw it back.

I was here for nearly an hour, warily watching the traffic that sped past me, no one stopping, no one caring.  Not one word from the cyclists who biked by; not an inquiry from people out for evening strolls, much like I had been.  A cop car pulled near, watched a moment, turned around, and headed back to town.

Finally, night arrived and the little duckling fell silent.  So did all the other ducks.  With nothing more I could think of to do, I headed home.    Early the next morning I returned, and searched the gratings.  But I could see nor hear the little duckling.  Its fate unknown: Did it find its own way home?  Did it sail off down the storm drain and into the creek to have adventures on the high river?  Did a raccoon or some other critter have an appetizing meal?

One by Land, Two by Sea?

How many lists should one make?  I  enjoy making lists in general.  I like their ability to track progress. They keep me focused.  So of course, I adore ebird.

My parents have a really lovely set up for backyard birding.    The feeder sits at the edge of the middle garden bed.  Just in the next bed there’s plenty of cover from a small tree and wild rose bush.  The birds frequently sit in both the tree and the rose bramble.  Outlining both beds are rows of large rocks that the Dark-eyed Juncos are especially fond of scrambling around.  Moving away there are trees dotting the landscape in all directions of varying ages most upward of 30 years.  The property line to the west is also provides good cover and to the south we have edge.  So that’s a convoluted way to say there is lots of good cover.

However on the north side of the house it’s quite a different habitat.   Just across the street is both a stream and a pond which compromise a County Park / Wilderness Refuge.  We tend to get mallards, a domestic duck unit, in recent years we’ve had Red-winged Blackbirds, in addition to the anticipated forest birds.  We also see Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets.  About a decade ago, I saw my only true rail, the Virginia Rail creeping along. All visible from the house!

So the question is this:  as I am birding the backyard, do I list species I see/hear concurrently in the stream/pond on the same list or should I create a second list?

Reasons for 2 Lists:

  • Two different habitats
  • Can bird each separately
  • One is public land, the other is private
Reasons to Make 1 List:

  • 2 habitats are separated by 100? feet
  • Can be birding from the same location (within the house)