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Monday, February 17, 2014

Cypress Dreams

These shots are from a tour we took on a small fishing boat in the Atchafalaya Swamp outside of Lafayette, Louisiana last February. Ernest Couret of Couret's Swamp Tours was our guide (HIGHLY recommend him if you're looking for a swamp tour in this area!).  We didn't see any gators (wrong season for that), but this day trip from New Orleans was still totally worth it. Spanish moss hanging from a massive grove of bald cypress trees blowing gentlty in the breeze and listening to Ernest's musings on life in the swamp would be a great trip any time of the year. Plus we saw a few birds!

 Cypress grove at Atchafalaya

Eastern Kingbird

Great Egrets

In spring the water hyacinth blooms and that brown carpet turns a vibrant green and purple. I'm DEFINITELY making a return trip.

Swamp Sentries

Osprey Lunch

He'll take it to go!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Kingfisher & I

We've seen kingfishers before, but this was the first time at Prospect Park.  This male was perched picturesquely near the Audubon Center.

Belted Kingfisher at the Boat House

Belted Kingfisher Hunting

Kingfishers perch on low branches overlooking ponds or lakes, using their keen eyesight to spot prey.  When they're ready to strike they hover about 2 feet over the water, rapidly flapping their wings like a hummingbird, and then BAM! Into the water.

 Belted Kingfisher in Profile

Fierce mohawk? Check. Dagger-like beak? Check. Disproportionately large head.  Check! Kingfishers never cease to amaze.  This is a male; the females have a rust colored ring around their breast.  This is one of the few occasions I can think of where the female is more colorful than the male. 

 Carolina Wren

If there was a radio station solely dedicated to bird songs, this guy would have a top 40 hit.  What pipes! We first heard the siren call of the Carolina Wren at the boat house, and once we tracked it down we couldn't believe it was coming from such a tiny bird. 

White-breasted Nuthatch

Every picture in the history of White-breasted Nuthatch pictures must look like this. Nuthatches are a "tree-clinging" type of bird (much like a woodpecker), and they scale the trees looking for small bugs, stopping ever few seconds to strike a pose.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I always love to spot a red-bellied when we're at Prospect Park....this is the only place I've seen them come to think of it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

David Weld Sanctuary

Not much doing at David Weld last weekend.  This was my first visit and we saw a total of 3 birds.

In general, where there is food, there are likely birds.  David Weld agrees. The vegetation was mostly thorny scrub with nary a pine cone in sight, which helps explains the lack of bird activity.  Even common year-long northern residents like the Northern Cardinal are, I hate to break it to you, only here for the food. They became prevalent in the northern United States beginning in the early 1900's,  due primarily to the introduction of fruit-producing ornamental vegetation that provide food for the birds during the winter.

Despite the lack of avian activity at the Weld Sanctuary this past weekend, I'll definitely return in the summer time; a little green is bound to do wonders for the landscape/birdscape.  

Gull on the Sound

Great Black-baked Gull? Lesser Black-backed Gull? I'm counting the days (months) until beach weather when I can brush up on my gull identification skills.  This gull was definitely large and had a much darker back than the ones that steal your french fries at Robert Moses (those are Ring-billed Gulls, if you're taking names).

Johnny Liv (Ring-billed Gull)

White-throated Sparrow

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Bird Beat

Check out this recent article about destination birding in a Minnesota bog. It makes me feel like I'm not working hard enough at bird watching...but I guess if you want to see a Grey Owl you have to put in some elbow grease.

Photo via New York Times

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Feeling Ducky in 2013

Happy New Year bird fans!  Our first (of hopefully much more frequent) posts in 2013 is a selection of some wonderful waterfowl we've spotted over the last several months everywhere from the Catskills to Brooklyn's own backyard.

Common Mergansers Three

The Merganser family was still patrolling the lake in September when we were there for a camping trip. The chicks have all grown up and they don't appear to be in any rush to leave....except when we approach that is.  These ducks are relatively shy; even as we approach on the path 20 yards away they'll get up off their log and start swimming.  I'm just glad they've decided to make our favorite camping spot their home.

Common Merganser Looking Cool in the Shimmering Sunlight

 American Coot & Feet

Black Scoter

This was taken at Jamaica Bay in early October where these Scoter's were passing through.  They rarely venture beyond the salt water coasts.

Brants & Egrets

Although wetlands are natural barriers to coastal flooding, Jamaica Bay didn't fare well during Hurricane Sandy, mostly due to oil and sewage run-off from neighboring communities and debris from the storm.  Certainly the storm won't stop the spring migratory birds from coming, but I wonder what they'll find when they get there.  Speaking of Sandy, we can add the Great Horned Owl's nest in Prospect Park to the storm's toll. 

Northern Shoveler on Ice

Last weekend at Prospect Park the lake was teeming with ducks, gulls and geese.

Male Northern Shoveler & Friends

Hooded Meragnser Crest Up

I had a full on birdgasm with this one. The Hooded Merganser is the smallest of the Mergansers and while it sports the same mohawky crest that the rest of the Mergansers do, the Hooded takes it to the next level.  This is one of those ducks that I was very familiar with before having seen it, but for some reason wrote it off as something that I wouldn't see in person, let alone in our very own Prospect Park. We committed a cardinal sin of birdwatching and forgot to bring the binoculars to the park that day, so all we had to work with was the camera, but it served us well.  

Hooded Merganser Crest Down

 Hooded Mergansers Two

 I like this shot because you can really see their slender, spikelike bill, a common feature of all the Mergansers.  They were fishing away in the late afternoon sun.

Male & Female Hooded Mergansers - Breeding Plumage

And now for the Brooklyn Bird Nerds birding lesson of the day: Breeding Plumage vs. In Eclipse

I always assumed that if we were bothering to point out a bird's plumage as "breeding", then there must be some other "non-breeding" plumage that the bird has the rest of the year when it's not breeding season.  My attempts at finding a picture of a male Hooded Merganser without it's stunning pattern failed, and I felt like I didn't have the whole picture.  It turns out, that while a bird may have breeding plumage, it does not necessarily have eclipse plumage.

In Eclipse: This describes a bird's plumage after breeding, when they begin to moult and take on a duller appearance. It can starkly contrast with the more colorful and vibrant breeding plumage.  

A male Wood Duck may be in eclipse, and lacks the long head feathers and nearly all of its color.  The male Hooded Merganser, however, maintains it's black, white and rusk colors and patterns year round.  In its case, "breeding plumage" may only describe the level of sharpness or vibrancy of color.  The female above is in full on breeding plumage, and lacks the more subdued crest and white head patch she has while she is in eclipse.

 Hooded Merganser Takes Flight

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Bird Beat

Photo from The New York Times

Vladimir Putin chauffeured these endangered Siberian Cranes across the Arctic tundra to their wintering locale as part of...."The Flight of Hope." Regardless of his motives, I'm sure it was a pretty incredible experience. The full article is here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Springtime at Alder Lake

Ahhhhh, springtime!  Springtime was.....4 months ago.  Summer has ended (at least in our hearts) and the birds have flown by unnoticed. Fall is in the air, however, and we've just come off of a couple of great days of birdwatching.  We didn't bring the camera on our latest excursions to Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery, but we saw some first timers and familiar (but no less stunning) species, and I figured it's about time we post these pictures from our camping trip in May. 

Baltimore Oriole

We woke up at about 6am and were greeted by two flame colored Orioles in a beautiful tree covered with white flowers -- the picture of springtime.


The Ovenbird is a type of warbler that spends summers in the northeast.  This guy looked almost identical to the painted rendering in Sibley's book, so it was an easy ID. 


While not evidenced in these photos, the ovenbird usually walks around with its tail up and its head bobbing.  You can kind of see the distinctive golden strip across its head. Nice crest dude!

Common Yellowthroat

Albeit common, this was my first sighting of the familiar warbler.  Not a timid bird, he was perched right off of the path in a grassy, marshy area fly catching in the early morning.

Yellow Warbler

Our old favorite, the yellow warbler never fails to delight.

Red-winged Blackbird

We sat on our favorite little peninsula at sunset and snapped this picture of a red-winged blackbird.

Eastern Kingbird?

Calling all birders! Can you help me identify this? I'm not convinced it's an Eastern Kingbird.  I was thinking maybe an Eastern Wood PeeWee, but the breast is too white, no? Help! This was so long ago I can't give any other tips on identifying it.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Hello old friend.

(Why you ain't nuthin but a...) Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

What an awesome name.  I can't help but say it with a country western accent.  Notice the red throat and the very faint yellow hue on its breast, both unique traits.


It pays to get up early!  A herd of deer came right up to our campsite at around 7:30am.  This guy has a really goofy look on his face.

American Goldfinch

Another common bird to most people but a first time spotted for me.  You show me somebody who doesn't love a yellow bird, and I'll show you a liar. This Goldfinch graces the cover of Sibley's Guide to Eastern North American Birds, so I was especially thrilled to finally spot it.

On our last day camping, I was sitting on the throne made of rocks, enjoying a cup of coffee and warming my feet by the fire.  I noticed a very, very large bird come careening down from the heavens, banking north and zipping past the trees that bordered the lake.  At first I thought it must be a Canadian Goose, because I've never seen a hawk with such a wing span.  I mention it to D and he's barreling through the Alders towards the waterfront trying to investigate.  Good thing he did!


I'd never seen a bald eagle before, but, like most Americans, am completely familiar with its bright yellow, dagger like beak and its stark white head with that Flinstone-like hemline.  It even had the yellow claws.  It was totally exhilarating to see something so familiar, not on a dollar bill or in The Rescuers Down Under, but IN REAL LIFE.  He perched proudly on this tree overlooking the lake; the star spangled banner played faintly in the distance.

Bald Eagle

 Full 180 head turn! Now that's something!  Bald Eagles can have up to a 6.5' wingspan.  When you see that in person it's utterly dazzling. He stayed perched on this tree for the next hour or so...we were waiting anxiously for him to take a dive in the lake for a fishy snack, but no luck.

We're gearing up for Fall Migration and are heading back to Alder in a few short weeks.  Spotted last weekend at Prospect Park and Greenwood were:

Baltimore Oriole
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Flickers
Belted Kingfisher (lots of these at Greenwood, apparently having some territorial or mating disputes)
Northern Parula
Female American Redstart (totally fearless she was!)
Black Throated Blue Warbler
Black and White Warblers
Red Breasted Nuthatch
Blue Winged Teals hanging around with one lonely Cormorant.

Happy birding.