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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.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Birders: The Central Park Effect

We're watching this documentary now on HBO and it's fantastic. I highly recommend it. It's been a busy summer and we haven't done much birding, but this is the best antidote for our unfortunate-but-at-least-im-getting-plenty-of-beach-time-and-ringed-billed-gulls birding lull!

Check it out, enjoy, and I will get our latest trip posted soon!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

City Birds

Last weekend in Central Park we ran into a few very knowledgeable birdwatchers in the Ramble who pointed out a Chestnut-sided Warbler.  This was at about 3pm and they said they'd been there since 7am!  Early bird gets the worm....or something like that.

Chesnut-sided Warbler

We didn't get a very clear shot of him but you can distinctly see the chestnut flanks on his belly.

Magnolia Warbler

The Magnolia Warbler gets its name from Alexander Wilson, a prominent ornithologist from the late 18th century.  According to Wikipedia, James Audobon was "decidedly ambiguous" towards him and his book of bird portraits.  I wish I knew if that was true, and if so, why?!  Was there some sordid love affair?  Was it jealousy because of the quite extensive list of species bearing Wilson's name?  I suppose we'll never know.  Wilson named the Magnolia Warbler as such because he first spotted it in a Magnolia Tree in Louisiana, although that is by no means its preferred habitat.

Magnolia Warbler Profile

The birdwatchers on the bench were playing the Blackburnian Warbler call to try to attract more birds.  Jury's out on this practice....much like the piles of birdseed in Prospect Park, playing calls seems sneaky and unfair, but I'm sure if done appropriately it doesn't do any damage.

We've got a big post coming up.  We spent the weekend at our favorite camping spot in the Catskills and added a whole roster of new species to our spotted list, including Mr. Red White & Blue himself! 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

#WEAREEVERYWHERE (Wood Ducks, That Is)

Guess who makes an appearance on the intro to Parks and Recreation?  That's right, the Wood Duck!  Proud resident of Pawnee, Indiana. 

In other news, we spent a rainy (but thrilling!) Saturday at Jamaica Bay a few weekends ago.  We saw our first Yellow-Crowned Night Heron in the blind at John's Pond.  The Black-Crowned Night Heron was there also in full-on mating mode, and there were two juveniles but we're not sure who they belonged to. 

Canadian Geese were roosting on the eastern shore of the West Pond.  Their mates were aggressively protecting their young, marching up and hissing at us as we passed.

Angry Goose!

At our next trip we'll see the fruit of all his efforts I'm sure.   The babies are-a-hatching!  

Monday, April 16, 2012

If You Got It, Flaunt It!

Breeding plumage!  So many ducks have it!  Come mating season, they ditch their drab brown coats for something much flashier.  Colors and patterns you wouldn't believe! It's really quite something, and on a recent spring day, D had the good fortune of having jury duty!  Not only did he have jury duty, but he was released at 1pm!  He hopped on the A train and went straight for Jamaica Bay where he was thrilled to see many of the ducks we've become pretty used to seeing out there in much snazzier duds.  

Northern Shoveler (Male, Breeding Plumage)

I can never get over the size of this guys bill.  It's so disproportionately big it's almost absurd!!   I guess that's why they call him Shoveler.  Their highly specialized bill is good for sifting plankton from the waters surface. 

Here's the Northern Shoveler when he's not trying so hard:

Green-winged Teal (Male, Breeding Plumage)

Another dramatic transformation.  Pretty much the only thing this species retains between breeding/non-breeding is the little bit of yellow on the tail coverts.

And now for the really exciting stuff!  About a year ago, before I got into birdwatching in earnest, I was at Central Park on my lunch break taking a walk around The Pond.  I sat on a bench watching a group of about 50 Mallards, just ducking around, until something caught my eye.  One of these things was NOT like the others!!  What I was so amazed by, I later discovered, was a Wood Duck.  Heart palpitations, people!  I turned to the stranger standing next to me, "Do you see that insane looking duck?!?!?"  She did, and I'm not sure she cared...but it didn't kill my spirit.

And so, on his latest trip to Jamaica Bay, D finally got to see first hand what so excited me at Central Park. 

Premature equackulation!!  Get it?! ;)

Wood Duck (Male, Breeding Plumage)

He's got this virbrantly green helmet-like head and blood red eyes, not to mention shades of yellow, blue, purple and brown.  What.  A.  Duck.  Keep your eyes peeled folks, you can see one too!  Although uncommon, we saw another one at Prospect Park only yesterday and they'll be here all summer.

Two House Finches, Sitting in a Tree

Tree Swallow in Flight

You can usually tell a swallow by their shape when they're flying, as they have that distinctive curvature of their wings.  D snapped this one at the exact right moment.  I love the movement that comes through in this shot.  He hasn't even tucked in his little legs yet!

At Prospect Park yesterday we didn't have our camera but can report that spring is definitely in the air.  We spotted a baby Red-tailed Hawk in his nest over by the Vale of Cashmere.  The yellow-rumped warblers are back in action, and we must have seen about two hundred Robins, including one with an albino morph!!  Unfortunately, no news on the G.H.O., but we'll keep checking up on her.  Happy spring migration everybody!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Birds of Hawaii

There's nothing to break up a long, cold (or not so cold) winter like a tropical vacation.  We spent 8 mind blowing days in Hawaii, and in addition to Humpback Whales, Spinner Dolphins, Sea Turtles and many a humuhumunukunukuapua'a, we saw quite a few new species of bird that we haven't yet witnessed on the mainland!  

I didn't get a good enough look at these guys to properly identify them so I'm not going to guess, but I'm pretty sure they're one of the 12 types of sandpiper found in Hawaii.

Nice legs! 

Spotted Dove

The spotted dove is ubiquitous in Hawaii; their answer to the NYC pigeon.

Common Myna

So is the Common Myna.  Personally, I don't care much for these guys.  They are in the starling family and have typical starling characteristics like being squwaky and aggressive.  Also, they are an invasive species in Hawaii, much like the European Starling is on the mainland.  However, who am I to judge?  They have a goofy little walk that looks sort of Egyptian.  In ancient Sanskrit texts, one of the Myna's names translates to "one who is fond of arguments."  Truth.

Brazilian Cardinal (or Red-crested Cardinal)

We were just waking up on our first day in Hawaii and spotted our first Brazilian Cardinal.  Another common bird in Hawaii, we were awaken every morning on our camping trip with their sweet songs.  Can I get a "wheet-cheer-up"???  Also, these birds are not actually in the Cardinal family.  You wouldn't believe it when getting a look at their red crest.

If you got it, flaunt it!

Northern Mockingbird

How did the Northern Mockingbird find himself way out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? 

...or the Northern Cardinal for that matter!

House Finch and Wife

Looking lovely in Lana'i

White-rumped Shama

Spotted at the Arboretum in the Manoa Valley neighborhood of Honolulu, the White-rumped Shama is native to southeast Asia and was introduced to Hawaii in the early 1900's.  They are very territorial, but are not considered an invasive species in Hawaii. 

Red-whiskered Bulbul

The Red-Whiskered Bulbul is one of two species in the bulbul family that are found in Hawaii.  We also saw this guy at the arboretum and while we didn't get a very clear shot you can clearly see the red undertail coverts.

Above is a picture perfect stream at the arboretum.  There's probably a bird in there somewhere.

On the mainland, we have a G.H.O (Great Horned Owl) update!!  As of 3/10/12, she's still there.  Here's to spring!  Maybe there will be some baby owls in our future.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hootin' Around

We were on a mission that cold Saturday afternoon.  A mission to spot the Great Horned Owl that has been roosting at Prospect Park.  It was a successful operation!  But first, here's a bright red Cardinal set against a snowy, gray backdrop.

Northern Cardinal

Downy Woodpecker

At last! The elusive Downy Woodpecker.  Well, not elusive to the birdwatcher, we see several of these guys pretty much every time we're at the park, but we've never been able to get a good shot of one because they're always spiraling their way up and around trees much like the Brown Creeper.

Great Horned Owl

The fact that there is a Great Horned Owl apparently putting down roots in Prospect Park is kind of a big deal. A pair hasn't roosted in Prospect Park in something like 100 years.  There has been a pair at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn for the last 4 years or so but never at P.P.  Owls really like it quiet...dead quiet.

This is actually part of the problem.  Many of the other birdwatchers we met also observing the owl are concerned that come summer time, this high traffic area of the park will no longer be a suitable habitat for the owls and they'll get out of dodge.  However, if the pair mates successfully this year, they'll be permanent residents at the park.

It was super freaky when she was looking DIRECTLY AT US!  If we'd had a small dog with us I would have been concerned.    Owls will eat pretty much anything, including other owls!  I'd love to go back and see her on a full moon.

We got to see her leave the roost and fly over to the next tree.  6' wing span on this bird!  Also, notice how her head is totally turned around.  Rotate your owl.  For science!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Early Winter Prospecting

These shots are from a trip to Prospect Park on an unseasonably warm day in mid November.  

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Dark-eyed Junco

First time spotted for us.  I think we were so excited we were unable to focus the camera.  New goal for 2012: take a better picture of the Dark-eyed Junco.

American Coot
American Coot's are common on ponds and you'll see them all winter in NYC.  They've got the freakiest little webbed feet.


Double Double-creasted Cormorants

Song Sparrow

I like looking at birds in the winter because they get all puffed up like this song sparrow.

Unidentified (Song Sparrow?)

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

On the northeast corner of the park there's a small path that's kind of trashy (literally) but it's not very well trodden and we've seen this woodpecker there several times.  This time happened to be just as the sun was setting so the light was really orange and beautiful.  "Red-belly" is a bit of a misnomer, as this type of woodpecker has a conspicuous red head and very slightly red belly (but you can rarely see it). "Red-headed Woodpecker" was already taken.   

Juvenille Possum

When we were having the Red-bellied sunset showdown some passers by pointed out this possum just off the path.  We thought he was dead at first!  That's just what he wanted us to think...