Monday, December 28, 2009

Prospect Park

Finally got back to the park today. A good mix of birds at the feeders. The most interesting thing I saw was the Wood Duck, out in the open on the Boathouse pool swimming around with about 40 Mallards.  I guess all the little coves where they like to hang out are frozen so there was really no place else for him to go.  The Bufflehead was on the lake in among the shovelers.

Prospect Park
Observation date:     12/28/09
Number of species:     29

Canada Goose     175
Mute Swan     6
Wood Duck     1
American Black Duck     5
Mallard     115
Northern Shoveler     70
Bufflehead     1           Lake
Ruddy Duck     7
American Coot     7
Ring-billed Gull     500
Herring Gull     5
Great Black-backed Gull     1
Rock Pigeon     53
Mourning Dove     15    Under the feeders
Red-bellied Woodpecker     4            one @ feeders
Downy Woodpecker     4         one @ feeders
Blue Jay     6
Black-capped Chickadee     3  two @ feeders
Tufted Titmouse     2             one @ feeders
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1  feeders
White-breasted Nuthatch     2  feeders
American Robin     1
Fox Sparrow     3        Ravine
Song Sparrow     3
White-throated Sparrow     20
Dark-eyed Junco     3 one @ feeders, 2 on Lullwater trail.
Northern Cardinal     5           female on feeders
House Finch     3         feeders
American Goldfinch     2         Lullwater trail

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brig/Barnegat/Cedar Dock Rd.

Maybe Florida spoiled us, but only being able to find 31 species of birds in well-known hot spots was a little disappointing. There were lots of birds at Brigantine, but not much diversity. And we punted at Barnegat because we didn't walk on the dreaded jetty--if we had we'd probably have seen Common Eiders and Harlequins. I doubt if we'd have seen any Purple Sandpipers, because the tide was high and bashing up against the rocks where they usually scamper around.

We ended the day at dusk at Cedar Dock Road, hoping for Short-eared Owls. The sides of the road were flooded, which, according to another birder, drowns the voles and no voles=no owls. However, seeing the Bald Eagle was an acceptable consolation prize and watching the harrier chase the eagle off its roost was amusing.

Eagles are really wimps. My favorite line in Peterson's guide is:
 Food: Bald Eagle, chiefly dead or dying fish.*
A fearsome raptor; one step up from a vulture. You can see why Ben Franklin strenuously objected to it being named the national bird. He called it
a rank coward of bad moral character.
For the record:

E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Number of species:     21
Snow Goose     1000
Brant     200
Canada Goose     50
Tundra Swan     24
American Black Duck     500
Mallard     100
Northern Shoveler     6
Northern Pintail     100
Ring-necked Duck     10
Bufflehead     5
Hooded Merganser     25
Great Blue Heron     1
Northern Harrier     2
Peregrine Falcon     2
Dunlin     300
Ring-billed Gull     50
Herring Gull     50
Great Black-backed Gull     5
American Robin     15
Cedar Waxwing     2
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)     1

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park

Number of species:     11
Surf Scoter     10
Long-tailed Duck     4
Common Loon     20
Great Cormorant     2
Ruddy Turnstone     1
Dunlin     1

Ring-billed Gull     X
Herring Gull     X
Great Black-backed Gull     2
American Crow     1
House Sparrow     50

E. B. Forsythe NWR--Cedar Run Dock Rd.
Number of species:     8
Mallard     30
Great Blue Heron     1
Bald Eagle     1
Northern Harrier     1
Ring-billed Gull     X

Great Black-backed Gull     1
European Starling     250
Song Sparrow     1

*The line has been edited out of the more recent editions. Now it eats "fish, injured waterfowl, carrion." Doesn't sound much better, but it doesn't trip off the tongue like "dead and dying..." 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Game I Play

I received for Christmas the photography book, Waterbirds, by Theodore Cross, a collection of his striking pictures of my favorite type of bird. His text includes enough oddball information about the birds to make it just interesting enough to read, though I found myself skimming through a lot of information I already knew.  The book got me thinking, again, about bird photography and why, apart from the documentary aspect, I have so little interest in doing it.

Our scope is often mistaken for a camera when we’re in a place where there are non-birders, like when we’re walking on a beach or through a park. When we tell people that it is a telescope for looking at birds we’re met with a mixture of disappointment and incomprehension, as if they’re thinking, “You mean you’re lugging that thing around just to look at a bird? You take nothing back?”


When we found the Roseate Spoonbill at Brigantine this summer, hundreds of miles out of range, I stopped a photographer because I wanted him to take picture of it to document it. I didn’t care if the bird posed for him or if the light was right—I just wanted some proof that we had seen what we reported.

Later, that photographer returned with a longer lens and got some excellent photos of the bird. And he can add those pictures to the hundreds of thousands of other pictures of spoonbills. Even the rarest bird is extensively photographed—there are millions of pictures, I’m sure, of Whooping Cranes (including some we took) of which there are less than 500 in the world.

I suppose part of the impetus for most people is the same as the need to take a picture of the Eifel Tower or the Statue of Liberty—to prove you were there, to prove you saw that Wood Stork, Limpkin, Painted Bunting. And of course, there’s the urge to capture the beauty of the bird, to make a beautiful photograph. But how many beautiful photographs of the Snowy Egret or the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset do we need?

But the stronger reason I’m not interested in taking pictures of the birds we see is really because that’s not the game I play.

When I first got interested in birds, during my vacations on Martha’s Vineyard 30 or so years ago, what fascinated me was the diversity of birds I could see just sitting on the deck. An Osprey on its nest, constantly calling. Swans sailing along the pond. Egrets wading on the edges. The Black-crowned Night Herons coming down out of the tree at dusk. The kingfisher rattling in flight. The towhee in the bushes. The marsh hawk (the Northern Harrier was the marsh hawk then) swooping along the line of dunes. Red-tailed Hawks nesting in the yard next door. It was a parallel universe taking place in front of me.

And living in the city it is even more fascinating to me to be able to go to Prospect Park, not one mile from here, and easily find 30 species of birds and, with a little more effort, 40 or more species. Mostly the birds (aside from the geese, ducks,  & gulls fed by the dimwits who think they’re doing them a favor) are ignored. I’ve watched people walk under a tree where a hawk is perched not 10 feet over them. There are hundreds, if not thousands of birds at any one time in the park and they are either in the background or completely invisible to most of the people in the park.

So my game—and by no means is my game exclusive to me—is to find as many species as possible every time I go out birding. How many can I find in the park? How many can I find in a day? How many in a month? How many in a year? How many in a lifetime? It just never ceases to amaze me how many different kinds of birds are out there to be found, right next to us, so to speak.

There’s a Northern Shrike at DeKorte in the meadowlands. I’ve never seen a Northern Shrike and I’d love to see one. But tomorrow, instead of twitching along Disposal Road in Bergen County, we’re going to Brigantine. Why? Because there’s no guarantee I’ll see the shrike and I know there will be lots of birds at Brigantine, more than at DeKorte, (and who knows what surprises we’ll find) and even more than twitching, that is the game I like to play.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Nearly a dozen
People (we didn’t
Bother to count them
But there were more than
Ten and not quite twelve)
Packed Fort Myers City
Crawl space.

Jamaica Bay--West Pond

We went to JBWR this morning. I expected the trails to be a little icy 4 days after the big storm, but I didn't expect the West Pond (and from what I could see from across the street, the East Pond too) to be completely frozen. Hence--no birds. At least on the pond.

Out in the bay there were Brant, and on the spit off Terrapin Trail there were about 100 Snow Geese, including 1 blue morph which was a beauty. Lots of sparrows, mostly white-throated.

And the trail was only plowed a short distance. After about a 1/4 of mile the packed down snow and ice stopped and foot-deep snow started. Neither of us felt like tramping a mile and half through that when it was pretty obvious we weren't going to see a whole lot more than we'd already seen.

Still it was good to tromp through the snow for a while without having to deal with slush and slippery sidewalks.

West Pond
Observation date:     12/24/09
Number of species:     16

Snow Goose     100
Brant     50
Canada Goose     6
American Black Duck     2
Mallard     1
Ring-billed Gull     4
Herring Gull     2
American Crow     9
Hermit Thrush     1
Yellow-rumped Warbler     2
Fox Sparrow     1
Song Sparrow     4
White-throated Sparrow     25
Dark-eyed Junco     2
Northern Cardinal     2
House Finch     6

Monday, December 21, 2009


Shortest “day” of the year; longest “night” of the year. Shari said today in the restaurant, referring to the two choices, that I was the kind of person who saw the glass as half empty. Donna said that I always saw the glass as completely empty. I said that I don’t think there’s a glass there at all. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Ding" Darling

    Wood Stork  

    Anhinga                                        Photos: Shari Zirlin                    

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


We spent a week in Florida, staying on Sanibel Island and birding the area.

The main attraction is the J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR, which includes a 4 mile drive along dikes with impoundment pools and inlets on either side. An amazing amount of shorebirds and waders are around, particularly during low tide, including the spectacular Roseate Spoonbill, Anhingas, Reddish Egrets and Wood Storks lurking in the trees.

Wood Stork was one of our "target" birds, along with Limpkin and Snail Kite. We found 6 storks roosting in a tree the first trip around "Ding" and traveled to a storm water collection facility about 45 minutes away on the mainland--Harnes Marsh--to find the Limpkins and kites.

We'd gone down to Corkscrew Sanctuary, the site where the Audubon Society originally began protecting the egrets, to find the Limpkins, with no luck, but instead we were rewarded with a beautiful look at a PAINTED BUNTING. We had to hang around a feeder for a while but it finally showed itself out in the open, its colors incredibly intense.

Ever since I got my first Peterson, I'd wanted to see a Painted Bunting, but looking at the range maps I saw that it was mostly in the Ozarks of Arkansas and I knew I was never going to Arkansas. Florida, happily, is the northernmost part of their winter range, and Corkscrew gets them fairly regularly. A volunteer saw us waiting near the feeder and said that "patience" will be rewarded. 10 minutes later, it was.

We also added Sandwich Tern to our life list. This isn't an especially rare bird, but they don't come up to our area very much. The first day we were on Sanibel, exploring the beach near out hotel we found a flock of them.

My "wish I had the camera" moment came at Bunche Beach (named in honor of Ralph Bunche, since the beach was the only one set aside for African-Americans during the segregation era) when a couple of hundred Black Skimmers flew over, around, in front and in back of Shari. They bark like little dogs.

The full list for 12/7 to 12/14:
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
American Kestrel
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Marbled Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
House Sparrow

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ornithological Trivia

According to Ebird, the county in Iowa with fewest bird checklists (1) is Audubon County.

The county with the most?
Aleutians, in Alaska, with an astounding 39392 as of 11/1/09

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lively along the Lullwater

It was really dead bird-wise when I got to Prospect Park this morning. I thought I was doing badly with just a chickadee, a woodpecker, & a mockingbird until about a quarter of the way around the lake I met another birder I know who had just seen his first passerine of the day--a Swamp Sparrow.

I missed the Swamp Sparrow, but when I got to the Lullwater, just after the rink there was an explosion of winter birds--titmouse, Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, cardinals, White-throated Sparrow, woodpeckers (Downy & Hairy) plus a Pied-bill Grebe on the water. And, practically sitting on top of me when I was 1/2 way up the path, a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a low branch. Yellow eyes looking down on me--I don't want to anthropomorphize, but let's say it looked down with disinterest. I wasn't food, and I couldn't hurt it.

As soon as I saw the Brown Creeper, the day became a success.

Prospect Park
Observation date:     12/2/09
Number of species:     33

Canada Goose     50
Mute Swan     6
American Black Duck     4   3 on Lake, 1 on Upper Pool
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid)     1 
Mallard     100
Northern Shoveler     10
Ring-necked Duck     1     Upper Pool
Ruddy Duck     85     Mostly on Lake, some on Lullwater, a couple on Upper Pool
Pied-billed Grebe     1     Lullwater
Great Blue Heron     1     Flyover Breeze Hill
Black-crowned Night-Heron     1     Duck Island
Red-tailed Hawk     1     Lullwater, sitting low in a tree, practically on top of me!
American Coot     4     2 on Lake, 2 on Lullwater
Ring-billed Gull     50
Herring Gull     10
Rock Pigeon     30
Mourning Dove     1     Lullwater
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1
Downy Woodpecker     8
Hairy Woodpecker     1     Lullwater
Blue Jay     9
American Crow     10     8 on baseball fields, 2 flyovers
Black-capped Chickadee     2
Tufted Titmouse     2     Lullwater
White-breasted Nuthatch     2     Lullwater
Brown Creeper     1     Lullwater
American Robin     19
Northern Mockingbird     1
European Starling     40
White-throated Sparrow     10
Dark-eyed Junco     3     Lullwater
Northern Cardinal     12     Mostly around the Lullwater
House Finch     5     Behind Boathouse
House Sparrow     16