Monday, May 31, 2010

JBWR 5/31--One More Oddity

We finished out the month with a relatively quick jaunt around the West Pond at JBWR. A fellow birder pointed out a bird in the bay that he was pretty certain was a Red-necked Grebe and after consulting Sibley, Peterson and 5 or 6 other birders we concluded that it was indeed a very out-of-season grebe. It wasn't in breeding plumage like the Horned Grebe we saw a couple of days ago on Staten Island, but looked like either a non-breeder with very worn plumage or else one that was in transition. It also wasn't diving (which was fine for us in terms of ID--grebes are notorious for disappearing on you) which led us to wonder if it was ill. I often think when I see a rare or out-season bird that this is great for me, but that the bird has just hit a reproductive dead-end.

Naturally, we left the camera at home.

I wasn't certain, but I didn't really remember ever seeing a RNGR. I remember once on a very cold day in Belmar, NJ trying, with a couple of other birders to turn some Horned Grebes into something more exotic, but we apparently weren't successful because when I consulted our master life lists the grebe turned out to be a lifer! Not a bad way to end the month, especially with the bonus of a Wilson's Phalarope in breeding plumage. We'd heard that one had been reported, but we had long passed the location where it had last been seen when I scoped it out running along the beach down from Bench 12. Lucky Bench 12 where we also saw the White-faced Ibis twice this month.

This year's northern migration is just about over. Summer is upon us. Birding in the summer can really be a challenge since counter-intuitively it can be a relatively barren time to go birding.  Add in the heat and the bugs  and you really have to want to seek out birds (& hope for a rarity to come your way) to go birding for the next 3 months

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge--West Pond
Number of species:     46
Brant     14 These are real stragglers!
Canada Goose     100
Mute Swan     7     Bench 2 5 cygnets
Gadwall     1     Bench 2 sleeping on the beach
American Black Duck     5
Mallard     25
Greater Scaup     1
RED-NECKED GREBE     1     In bay off Bench 6
Double-crested Cormorant     15
Great Egret     5
Snowy Egret     2
Little Blue Heron     1     In marsh near Osprey nest
Black-crowned Night-Heron     1
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     2
Glossy Ibis     10
Osprey     4
Clapper Rail     1     In marsh by Bench 1
Semipalmated Plover     3
American Oystercatcher     4
Willet     1
Semipalmated Sandpiper     1000
Dunlin     1
Wilson's Phalarope     1     Bench 12
Laughing Gull     20
Herring Gull     25
Forster's Tern     10
Mourning Dove     2
Willow Flycatcher     2
American Crow     3
Tree Swallow     50
Barn Swallow     1
Marsh Wren     1     Marsh near Bench 10
American Robin     1
Gray Catbird     25
Northern Mockingbird     1
Brown Thrasher     2
European Starling     1
Cedar Waxwing     4     Parking lot and trail between Visitor Center and blind.
Yellow Warbler     10
Common Yellowthroat     5
Eastern Towhee     1
Song Sparrow     2
Northern Cardinal     1
Red-winged Blackbird     25
Common Grackle     1     Chased by blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle     1

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Staten Island 5/29--More Leftovers

Hen Common Eider, photo Shari Zirlin
We birded Staten Island yesterday, spending most of our time at Great Kill and Mount Loretto with a couple of quick stops to look at Lemon Creek and the Arden Avenue Purple Martin houses.

We were surprised to see a Common Eider and a Horned Grebe off the mud flats of Great Kills. But not that surprised, since we often find out of season waterfowl (like scoters or Buffleheads) there. We've seen plenty of Horned Grebes, but never one in its spectacular breeding plumage. It was pretty far out and a lot clearer in our scope than in the picture Shari digiscoped:

Great Kills Park
Number of species:     41
 Brant     2     Mud Flats
Canada Goose     15
Common Eider     1     Hen, Mud Flats
Horned Grebe     1     Male, in breeding plumage, Mud Flats
Double-crested Cormorant     3
Snowy Egret     1     Mud Flats
Little Blue Heron     2     Mud Flats
Black-crowned Night-Heron     2     Flyover Marina
Turkey Vulture     1
Black-bellied Plover     1     Mud Flats
Semipalmated Plover     3     Mud Flats
American Oystercatcher     6     Mud Flats
Ruddy Turnstone     1     Mud Flats
Laughing Gull     2     Mud Flats
Herring Gull     15
Great Black-backed Gull     12
Rock Pigeon     6
Mourning Dove     3
Willow Flycatcher     2
Fish Crow     2
Tree Swallow     10
Bank Swallow     25     Mud Flats
Barn Swallow     1
Carolina Wren     1     Crooke's Pt White Trail
American Robin     25
Gray Catbird     25
Northern Mockingbird     5
Brown Thrasher     3
European Starling     5
Yellow Warbler     15
Common Yellowthroat     1
Eastern Towhee     5
Field Sparrow     1     Crooke's Pt
Song Sparrow     1     Crooke's Pt
Northern Cardinal     10
Red-winged Blackbird     4     Mud Flats
Common Grackle     1
Boat-tailed Grackle     16
Brown-headed Cowbird     2
Baltimore Oriole     1     Trail to Mud Flats
American Goldfinch     5     Crooke's Pt
Mount Loretto Unique Area

Number of species:     30
Brant     24
Canada Goose     7
Wood Duck     1
Mallard     4
Double-crested Cormorant     5
Great Egret     2
American Oystercatcher     2
Spotted Sandpiper     2
Herring Gull     5
Great Black-backed Gull     5
Belted Kingfisher     1
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1
Willow Flycatcher     1
Eastern Phoebe     1
Warbling Vireo     1
Blue Jay     1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     5
Tree Swallow     2
Barn Swallow     1
American Robin     10
Gray Catbird     2
European Starling     5
Yellow Warbler     5
Common Yellowthroat     10
Eastern Towhee     2
Northern Cardinal     2
Red-winged Blackbird     5
Common Grackle     5
Boat-tailed Grackle     2
Orchard Oriole     1

Lemon Creek Bridge
Number of species:     5
Mallard     8
Great Egret     1
Killdeer     3
Barn Swallow     10
Red-winged Blackbird     2
Arden Avenue & Ocean Driveway
Number of Species:   1
Purple Martin

Friday, May 28, 2010

JBWR 5/28--Red Knots!

At the end of the Terrapin Trail today I spotted 5 Red Knots and Shari was able to get some pretty good digiscoped photos.

This is a real "See 'em while you can" bird. Unless something miraculous happens, it won't be around very much longer--some studies have estimated it will be extinct by the end of the decade. It is a case of the tragic flaw--that which makes it great holds the seeds of it downfall. The sub-species of Red Knots that fly up the east coast of North America start their migration in Tierra del Fuego. They breed in the Arctic. True, this is probably not the best strategy for survival, but it's worked for who knows how many millions of years until fisherman in the Caribbean ran out of conch for bait. That didn't matter to the knots. It was the brilliant idea of  some entrepreneurs in NJ & Delaware to harvest horseshoe crabs and ship them to the Caribbean as a substitute for the vanished bait. That mattered to the knots because during their epic journey they stop along the beaches of Delaware Bay just about the time that the horseshoe crabs (a truly ancient species, by the way, that looked as it does now when the dinosaurs were around) crawl out of the water to lay their eggs--mid to late May. They feast on the eggs--no other food they can eat contains enough nutrition for these birds on their 10,000 mile flight.

They used to congregate on the beaches in the hundreds of thousands, but their numbers have decreased incredibly since the drastic reduction of the horseshoe crab population. Even with a moratorium on taking crabs it is probably too late for the knots to recover. This may rank as the stupidest reason for an extinction if it comes to pass.

So seeing five in breeding plumage was a happy surprise.

There were a few odd ducks around the ponds today: Lesser Scaup, Northern Shoveler, and hen Bufflehead, all out of season.

The List
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Species: 49
Brant     6
Canada Goose     150
Mute Swan     71
Gadwall     8
American Black Duck     6
Mallard     50
Northern Shoveler     1
Lesser Scaup     1
Bufflehead   1 Hen, East Pond
Ruddy Duck     8
Double-crested Cormorant     50
Great Egret     3
Snowy Egret     2
Black-crowned Night-Heron     6
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron     5
Glossy Ibis     10
Osprey     6
Clapper Rail     2
Black-bellied Plover     2
Semipalmated Plover     1
American Oystercatcher     3
Willet     2
Red Knot     5     On beach of Terrapin Trail
Semipalmated Sandpiper     155
Least Sandpiper     10
Laughing Gull     200
Herring Gull 10 East Pond
Great Black-backed Gull     13
Forster's Tern     16
Rock Pigeon     2
Mourning Dove     1
Willow Flycatcher     1
American Crow     5
Tree Swallow     50
Carolina Wren     1
Marsh Wren     1
American Robin     3
Gray Catbird     25
Northern Mockingbird     1
Brown Thrasher     2
European Starling     1
Cedar Waxwing     5     Parking Lot
Yellow Warbler     15
Common Yellowthroat     7
Eastern Towhee     4
Song Sparrow     1     Across from Bench 3
Northern Cardinal     4
Red-winged Blackbird     60
Brown-headed Cowbird     3     One female on WP trail, male & female in parking lot

Thursday, May 27, 2010

11 Months, 101 Books

I was laid off last June. In between looking for jobs that apparently don't exist, it gave me a chance to read books. I kept a list because keeping lists is what I do and because I was curious what the list would look like in retrospect.

The layoff also helped alleviate that panicky feeling I often have when I look at my bookshelves and can't seem to remember anything about a book I've read. Nabokov said you can never read a book; you can only reread it. Rereading constitutes 55% of the list (the little ® indicates a reread) and some of them had completely left my memory, so that it was like reading a new book. Others were better than I remembered them. Many were worse. 

I can also see skeins of somewhat related titles: an Updike jag, a sudden urge to reread all the David Carkeet books I own, reacquainting myself with the poetry of Philip Levine, picking up old John McPhee books off the shelf, and recently an inexplicable interest in reading plays.

There's a fair of amount of history on the list, one science fiction book which was the worst piece of writing I've read possibly in a decade, one mystery by Tony Hillerman which taught me that if I were stuck in a summer rental with only a history of hockey or Tony Hillerman books I'd delve into the hockey book.

Some of these books I ripped through, some of these books I slogged through; the list doesn't include the few that I started and couldn't finish. A book has to be abysmal before I'll ditch it. And so, here they are 101 books of which I'd recommend probably 95%.
     1)    6/29: The Crying of Lot 49 ®
2)    7/6: The Defining Moment
3)    7/9: The Great Comedians
4)    7/18: Hiding Man. (& parts of: Come Back, Dr. Caligari; Guilty Pleasures; City  Life;  Sadness; Not-Knowing ®)
5)    7/21: Decoding the Universe
6)    7/27: The Island at the Center of the World.
7)    7/30: Lenya
8)    8/11: Stephen Crane by John Berryman®
9)    8/13: The Greatest Slump of All Time®
10)     8/14: Cosmopolis ® (may as well have been the first time I read it)
11)     8/16: Lives of the Poets by E.L. Doctorow®: ditto
12)     8/17: A Streetcar Named Desire
13)     8/22: Moses
14)     8/28: True History of the Kelly Gang
15)     9/1: Paper Lion®
16)     9/7: Reflections on a New Work by Marcel Duchamp®
17)     9/9: Étant Donnés
18)     9/10: The Unteleported Man (absolute incomprehensible LSD drivel)
19)     9/11: The White Album
20)     9/22: In Patagonia® (not as good as I remembered it.)
21)     9/24: The Essential Groucho® (tedious)
22)     9/28: Tender is the Night® (this was on my shelf, so I suppose I read it previously, but I have absolutely no memory of it.)
23)     9/28: Living Well is the Best Revenge®
24)     10/1: Written Lives®
25)     10/4: The Bread of Time®
26)     10/4: Not this Pig® (eh)
27)     10/5: 7 Years From Somewhere® (eh)
28)     10/7: A Long Desire®
29)     10/7: A Walk With Tom Jefferson® (a little better)
30)     10/15: The White Lantern®
31)     10/17: Great Jones Street®
32)     10/19: Portnoy’s Complaint®
33)     10/26: Anja the Liar
34)     10/27: An Artist of the Floating World®
35)     10/29: A Pale View of Hills® (didn’t really remember anything about either of the last two)
36)     11/1: The Humbling
37)     11/4: Invisible
38)     11/8: The Telephone Booth Indian®
39)     11/11: The Years with Ross®
40)     11/12: The Sun also Rises®
41)     11/14: The Zimmerman Telegram®
42)     11/17: Licks of Love®
43)     11/20: Rabbit, Run®
44)     11/21: Of the Farm®
45)     11/23: The Manner Music®
46)     11/25: Rabbit Is Rich®
47)     11/29: The Music School®
48)     12/3: Alone®
49)     12/4: La Place de la Concorde Suisse®
50)     12/17: The Culture of Counter-Culture by Alan Watts (what a bunch of hooey)
51)     12/21: My Century by Günter Grass
52)     12/26: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers®
53)     12/26: Waterbirds
54)     1/02/10: In Harm’s Way
55)     1/05: The Design of Everyday Things (Peters out at the end; sold the book)
56)     1/13: The Maples Stories
57)     1/13: Things I Didn’t Know I Loved—Nazim Hikmet
58)     1/18: A Roomful of Hovings®
59)     1/21: Proofs by George Steiner®
60)     1/25: Thank God for the Atom Bomb®
61)     1/27: People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman
62)     2/1: Memoirs of Hecate County® (Remembered one scene from the entire book)
63)     2/2: Levels of the Game®
64)     2/4: Irons in the Fire®
65)     2/8: When Science Goes Wrong®
66)     2/8: Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen®
67)     2/10: Lonely Avenue
68)     2/13: The Full Catastrophe®
69)     2/17: The Error of Our Ways®
70)     2/19: Players
71)     2/23: Double Negative®
72)     2/23: Home Truths®
73)     2/25: The Mechanic Muse®
74)     2/25: The Post Office by Charles Olson®
75)     2/26: Krapp’s Last Tape®
76)     3/1: Legs®
77)     3/4/: No Exit®
78)     3/11: When Nietzsche Wept®
79)     3/11: Nietzsche®
80)     3/12: Woman in the Dark
81)     3/16: The Real McCoy
82)     3/22: How the States Got Their Shapes.
83)     3/26: Silk Parachute
84)     3/29: From Away
85)     4/2: Of A Feather
86)     4/6: Picture
87)     4/9: Wonder Boys
88)     4/12: The Armchair Birder
89)     4/15: Next
90)     4/20: Solar
91)     5/3: The Surrendered
92)     5/6: The Baseball Codes
93)     5/11: The Man with No Endorphins
94)     5/14: Blackeyes
95)     5/24: The Seven Year Itch
96)     5/24: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial
97)     5/25: Come Back, Little Sheba
98)     5/26: Death of a Salesman®
99)     5/26: Voyage (The Coast of Utopia part 1)
100) 5/26: Shipwreck (The Coast of Utopia part 2)
101) 5/27: Salvage (The Coast of Utopia part 3)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Non-reflecting Pool

We were walking along The National Mall in DC being real tourists.
We were walking toward the Lincoln Memorial. We hadn't expected to do any birding that day. It was a gray & drizzly. When we reached The Reflecting Pool we were surprised to see it was mostly drained. It certainly didn't seem like habitat for shorebirds or waterfowl. Yet we found dozens of ducks dabbling in the pool as well as raising their families and amazingly, lots of peeps.
Semipalmated Plover.
When I listed the shorebirds we saw on eBird it turned out that plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and the Dunlin we saw were rare birds for the area. When the pool is filled there isn't anyplace for them to go. On the other hand, what were they finding to eat on the cement? 
Constitution Gardens - Reflecting Pool 
Observation date:     5/18/10
Number of species:     15
Canada Goose     5
Mallard     100
Semipalmated Plover     2
Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs     1
Semipalmated Sandpiper     10
Least Sandpiper     10
Dunlin     1
Ring-billed Gull     5
Rock Pigeon     5
Mourning Dove     5
Blue Jay     1
Fish Crow     2
American Robin     5
European Starling     10
Common Grackle     10
House Sparrow     10