Sunday, January 31, 2010

Month-end Summary

Because I won't go on pelagic trips, particularly in the winter (I have this irrational prejudice against being seasick and frozen), there are a number of birds that I am probably precluded from seeing (petrels, shearwaters, jaegers, some gulls). That's why Shari's life list is longer than mine--a mid-winter trip on a stinky old tub far out on the Hudson Canyon? She's there!

However, every once in a while, one of these open oceans birds inexplicably ends up close to shore. There was the Red Phalarope in Shinnecock Inlet. There was the Thick-billed Murre in Brooklyn by the Gil Hodges Bridge, so close to shore you didn't need binoculars, and so co-operative he did everything but sign autographs.

And this week there was Dovekie out on Long Island, paddling around a marina. This is really a cute little bird, like a wind up toy. I'd show you a picture of it, but I don't have one because after hanging around for a week and giving every other birder in the tri-state area perfect looks, it wasn't there today when we went. I wanted to go yesterday but the temperature was 14 degrees with a stiff wind and that just seemed too cold to go   looking for a bird--even if it was a bird I really wanted to see. Shari, of course, has seen "hundreds" of them in mid-ocean. So today, even though the weather wasn't a lot warmer, the wind had died down and we made the trip out to Great River. (On a side note: what Great River is on Long Island?) We found the marina at the back of a golf course without any problem, but the water had started to ice over and the bird was not around. Disappointed and frustrated.

The lesson: Carpe Diem (although what eating a goldfish everyday has to do with any of this I don't know).

We went to Heckscher State Park which was nearby and saw a really splendid looking Northern Flicker, a Brown Creeper, lots of Buffleheads and some goldeneyes, then returned to the marina but still no luck. The consolation prize for the day was at Jones Beach: a Lapland Longspur that was very tame, affording excellent views.

For the month I recorded 76 species. We started & ended the month on Long Island and probably saw the best birds there:
Harlequin Duck
Common Eider
Lapland Longspur.

Well, except for the Mew Gull in Brooklyn (technically Long Island). And of course, there were the 2 Rusty Blackbirds in Prospect Park. And the American Pipit, it took me three or four tries to find that little dandy, can't forget the American Pipit.

But no Dovekie. Shari says I'll just have to go out on a pelagic sometime. Large porcine mammals will be flying out of one of my nether orifices before that happens.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Prospect Park 1/28

The snow stopped.

It was certainly easy to find the cardinals today against the white backgrounds.

I finally found the American Pipit that's been reported there. It was right where everyone has said it was, in the fenced off area by the ball fields. It was bobbing its tail "almost constantly" as it says in Peterson. That, the Bufflehead on the Upper Pool and my FOY Great Blue Heron were the highlights. The lowlight? Listening to the terrible music coming from the skating rink. It's amazing how far away you can hear the music. Now I have Baby baby don't get hooked on me running on a loop in my head.

Number of species:     31

Canada Goose     130
Mute Swan     8
Wood Duck     1     Boathouse Pond.
American Black Duck     17
Mallard     347     Upper Pool, Boathouse Pond, Lullwater, Lake.
Northern Shoveler     8
Bufflehead     1     Upper Pool
Ruddy Duck     46
Great Blue Heron     1     Back of Upper Pool
American Coot     18
Ring-billed Gull     200
Herring Gull     1
Mourning Dove     20
Downy Woodpecker     7
Blue Jay     9
American Crow     1
Black-capped Chickadee     5
Tufted Titmouse     1
White-breasted Nuthatch     1
American Robin     25
Northern Mockingbird     1
European Starling     1
American Pipit     1     Enclosure near ballfields
Song Sparrow     1     On Lullwater trail
White-throated Sparrow     35
Dark-eyed Junco     15
Northern Cardinal     26
Red-winged Blackbird     4     Feeders
House Finch     7     Feeders
American Goldfinch     9     5 by lake, including the one in full    breeding plumage, 4 by feeders.
House Sparrow     8

I WAS going to go bird watching this morning but...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Odd Ducks in Prospect Park

There are "countable" birds and " not countable" birds. Birders pretty much focus on "countable" birds and let the domestic ducks go by without really looking at them. Still, they're there, and some of them are great looking. This is a Cayuga Duck, which has been bred from Black Ducks. It is supposed to be good eating. No one knows how it got in the lake, but it probably didn't fly there. It was likely someone's pet. Or rejected dinner. It's been in Prospect Park lake going on two years now and I think it's been breeding with either the Mallards or the Black Ducks. I couldn't find a hybrid example today, but they're there.
Now these guys, I don't know what they are, they look like sepia prints of Mallards. The more I look around the park the  more I find. I suppose they're Mallard/domestic hybrids, but for all I know, they could be back-crosses from Mallard/Black Duck hybrids. I think the ones with the dark heads and green bills are males and the one that look more completely monotone, females.
Peculiar as these birds look, they are nothing compared to the ducks at Clove Lake Park on Staten Island. Those ducks look like the mutant survivors of a nuclear holocaust--mottled, tufted, bumpy--some are repulsive, some weirdly beautiful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Article in Brooklyn Paper about Swans (Yeesh!)

In which I am quoted. I cleverly recycled the Hatfield/McCoy|Capulet/Montague analogies into my quote.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Waterfowl Count

Did the Prospect Park portion of the NYSOA waterfowl count this morning. The picture shows the boathouse pond--mostly Mallards, a couple of Black Ducks, and if you look real hard, there is the lonely little Wood Duck, our "save" as Peter (Kings County organizer) calls it, because it will probably be the only one in the county. (If you click on the image, you'll get a larger, albeit somewhat blurrier view.)

I counted with another birder whom I'd seen around the park but was never formally introduced to until today. She is quite intimate with the swans in the parks, knows the sagas of the 2 families--sort of an avian Hatfield-McCoy feud in which a truce has apparently been called--and surprised me with her count of 8 swans, since all winter I'd only been coming up with 6. She told me that 2 more swans had flown in very recently. How they'll mix in with the other 6 remains to be seen, but, judging from swan behavior I've observed, it will not be pretty. Especially now that most of the lake and the boathouse pond and all of the Lullwater are frozen, there is not a lot of room for these big birds to stake out their territory. But that might not be a problem until nesting season begins. Who knows, maybe the cygnets from each family will find each other and we'll have a Capulet-Montague story instead.

Our "official" count for the day:

Time: 8:45 to 10:15  1/17/10

Canada Goose     235
Mute Swan     8
Wood Duck     1
American Black Duck     10
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid)     1
Mallard     312
Northern Shoveler     13
Bufflehead     1
Ruddy Duck     18
American Coot     13

One Canada Goose had a yellow neckband of NA08.

Other ducks we can’t count: 1 Cayuga Duck, 1 “chocolate duck” hybrid, 11 caramel colored ducks that look like domestic/mallard crosses.

Friday, January 15, 2010


As you know, if you're following this blog closely, there is a Northern Saw-whet Owl in Prospect Park. You also don't know where it is, because if I told you I'd have to kill you, although you are apparently the only person who doesn't know where it is, since every birder I talk to in the park is aware of its location.

I was in the park Monday and sought out the bird with no luck. Maybe it had moved on, I thought. But then, checking eBird, I saw that it had been reported that day. So today, I went back to the location, peered into the trees and found nothing. Okay, so now, maybe it was gone, but no, I ran into the guy who originally showed me the bird and he said that it was still there, same tree, same branch.

Now I was starting to take this as a personal failing. Am I such a lousy birder that I can't find an 8" owl 80 feet up in deep green pine needles? If I didn't find that stinking owl again, I don't know if my pride could have withstood the blow.

So I trudged back to the--oops, almost told you where it is--found the owl poop on the ground, stood back a few feet and scanned the branches. Right next to a bunch of dead leaves that had gotten caught in the pine tree was another, round, brown shape--the owl.

I guess I forgot that the first time I saw the owl I mistook the dead leaves for the owl, then when I finally found the owl, figured I'd never really seen brown leaves at all--after all, why would dead leaves be in an evergreen? But they are and the owl is roosting on its branch; if I showed it to you, you'd have a hard time believing it's the owl, you'd just think it was more dead leaves. However, dead leaves hardly ever look back at you.

I also added Rusty Blackbird to my Kings County, New York State, and United States lists. The only time, I'd seen them before was in Canada. They were easy to identify today, because it is in the winter that the blackbirds are RUSTY.

I was also scouting today for waterfowl, since I've volunteered to do the annual NYSOA waterfowl count on Sunday in the park. The Wood Duck is still on the Boathouse Pond, out in the open, which is really unusual for that species. The lake has all the expected species. Happily they don't care about gulls in this count because there are anywhere from 700 to 2000 gulls on the lake ice and counting them accurately is extremely difficult since they tend to suddenly swirl up and fly around before landing on a different part of the ice. The ducks, geese, swans and coots are relatively placid.

Prospect Park
Number of species:     33

Canada Goose     204
Mute Swan     6
Wood Duck     1     Boathouse Pond
American Black Duck     6
Mallard     245     Boathouse Pond: 49, balance on Lake
Northern Shoveler     36
Ruddy Duck     11
Red-tailed Hawk     1     Peninsula
American Coot     16
Ring-billed Gull     700
Herring Gull     2
Great Black-backed Gull     1
Rock Pigeon     X
Mourning Dove     22     Feeders
Northern Saw-whet Owl     1     Ravine
Red-bellied Woodpecker     2     Lily Pond
Downy Woodpecker     7     Feeders, Lily Pond
Hairy Woodpecker     1     Breeze Hill
Blue Jay     10
American Crow     27     In peninsula trees and on the ice on the lake
Black-capped Chickadee     3     Feeders and near Lily Pond
Tufted Titmouse     4     One @ Feeders, 2 near Lily Pond, 1 near Nethermead bridge.
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1     Feeders
White-breasted Nuthatch     3     Feeder, Lily Pond, Nethermead Bridge
Brown Creeper     1     Breeze Hill
European Starling     25
White-throated Sparrow     50
Dark-eyed Junco     5     Feeders
Northern Cardinal     10
Red-winged Blackbird     1     Female at Feeders
Rusty Blackbird     2     Near bridge by Lily Pond
House Finch     3     Feeders
American Goldfinch     7     One of the males in full breeding plumage!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


When I stretch my arms above my head
My fingers splayed
I touch the grasshopper’s sky.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Possible States of Being

Oh, I could be ecstatic.
Or I could be aesthetic.
Or I could be ascetic.
Or I could be acidic.
Or I could be Hassidic.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

More Mew

I thought coming down to see the Mew Gull from upstate was silly? There's a post on JerseyBirds from a guy in Dowingtown, Pennsylvania who came up to Brooklyn today to find the gull. At least he did, a little earlier than when we there.

Plus...he photographed a Purple Sandpiper on the rocks below the promenade. The tide was lower in the morning. Very, very frustrating.

Mew Gull

OK, so we saw the MEW GULL, a life bird for both of us. That makes 511 for me, 523 for Shari. Shari is ahead, and will probably stay ahead, because she is brave and has the fortitude [alternative: she is nuts] to withstand pelagic outings to find birds that rarely come close to shore, including winter pelagic trips where she has to dress up like a commercial fisherperson out to capture cod in the mid-Atlantic, while I refuse to subject myself to the freezing winds and the sickening smell of diesel fuel. I was seasick on the Block Island Ferry which is about a 45 minute ride--7 or 8 hours on the open sea sounds like hell to me.

We went to the same spot on Gravesend Bay as last week, timing our arrival a little before high tide (why the gull prefers to hang out around high tide I don't understand) and found 4 or 5 birders already in place. Someone had the gull in his scope so it was an easy "get." We latched onto the bird with our own scope and binoculars, got very satisfying looks at what is rather a nondescript gull (a completely yellow bill and dark eye is about all that distinguishes it from a Ring-bill Gull), it flew away a few minutes after we arrived and we went on our way.

Yes, it seems silly. But then we only went across Brooklyn to see it. We didn't travel from upstate as some birders were planning to do.

A quick look at the bay around the Owl's Head Water Pollution Control Plant yielded no Purple Sandpipers on the rocks.  Seems like a good habitat for them. I'd like to find them this year some place other than the slippery jetty at Barnegat Light. There were plenty of gulls in the water. Whatever the plant doesn't control they get to eat.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Prospect Park 1/7

After doing my house-husbandly duties this morning, I took a quick jaunt around the Park. I went looking for a Northern Saw-whet Owl that I knew was there and saw it only because I ran into a birder who was looking at it with his scope. Not a life bird for me, but still a lot of fun to see.

However, I can't tell you where it is
. It's bad enough I've told you the owl is in the park. Owl roosts, by general agreement among birders are not disseminated widely. It's like a club that you have to know someone who knows someone to get in. I knew this owl was there through some clever detective work on eBird and the Prospect Park sightings blog, but the chances of me actually finding it if the other birder hadn't been there were nil. The bird was very high up in a pine tree, obscured by branches. If you got just the right angle you could see the whole bird, but when I first scanned the area where I was told the bird was, I thought I was seeing a bunch of dead leaves. (Of course, had I thought about it for a few seconds, I would have realized that there are no dead leaves in a pine tree.)

So, you didn't hear it from me.

Prospect Park
Number of species:     31

Canada Goose     25
Mute Swan     5
American Black Duck     10
Mallard     125
Northern Shoveler     50
Ruddy Duck     4
Red-tailed Hawk     1
American Coot     6
Ring-billed Gull     1000
Herring Gull     10
Great Black-backed Gull     4
Rock Pigeon     15
Mourning Dove     2
Northern Saw-whet Owl     1
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     1
Downy Woodpecker     2
Blue Jay     3
American Crow     1
Black-capped Chickadee     4
Tufted Titmouse     2
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1
White-breasted Nuthatch     2
American Robin     3
Northern Mockingbird     2
European Starling     35
Song Sparrow     1
White-throated Sparrow     8
Northern Cardinal     5
American Goldfinch     5
House Sparrow     2

Sunday, January 3, 2010


1960 is now 50 years ago.
A half a century.
And I was there.
I don’t know exactly why that astounds me, 
but it does.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


When we were in Florida, eating lunch on our last day there, we had the happy misfortune of sitting next to a retired teacher from Kalamazoo, MI. Extolling (or complaining about, it was hard to tell) the ethnic diversity of his native city (caused, apparently by the willingness of Pfizer, which had a huge operation there, to hire anybody that was qualified) he said, "There are six Christian churches including a Catholic, Baptist, and protestant; there’s a Hindu temple, a Moslem Synagogue and a Buddhist whatever they call it…all within five or six blocks."
                                               (as transcribed by Shari Zirlin)

As I said to Shari, I’m almost 59 years old, I’ve heard millions of words in my life, but I have never heard the word “synagogue” come right after the word “Moslem.”

Today, driving back from Bensonhurst we passed Lutheran Hospital on 2nd Avenue. A block or so later, I saw a sign over a restaurant door that read
Two more words, that, I imagine have never appeared next to each other in the English language. 

Slow Start

Getting off to a slow start this year in terms of birds found. However, with Harlequin Duck yesterday and goldeneyes today we make up with quality what we lose in quantity.

We went to Gravesend Bay this morning despite the bitter, windy conditions to try to find the Mew Gull that's been hanging around for the last week or so. It was a long shot, I knew. When we arrived we met one other birder bundled up to the point where only his nose stuck out of his winter gear...he'd been there 2 hours with no luck and told us others had been there earlier with the same non-result, so I wasn't surprised when we struck out. But the very close looks of the handsome male goldeneyes I took as the consolation prize.

Gravesend Bay
Number of species:     8

Brant     100
American Black Duck     1
Bufflehead     2
Common Goldeneye     4
Red-breasted Merganser     1
Ring-billed Gull     50
Herring Gull     1
Rock Pigeon     9

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year of Birding

We started the year off in Nassau County, birding with a good friend who has moved out there. He took us to 2 places, Willow Pond where we saw wigeons, which was a surprise, and Point Lookout, where we were exceedingly happy to find Harlequin Ducks. First because they're great looking ducks--probably in North America they only 2 birds more spectacular, in terms of coloration and pattern are the Painted Bunting and the Wood Duck, and secondly because that means we won't have to venture down to Barnegat Light (see two posts down) and "walk" (you actually hop and jump from rock to rock) on the slippery jetty to see these improbable ducks. Now, if the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge can yield Purple Sandpipers, there really won't be any reason to torture ourselves at Barnegat.

Willow Pond
Number of species:     8

Canada Goose     5
American Wigeon     2
American Black Duck     50
Mallard     20
Northern Shoveler     1
Black-crowned Night-Heron     4
Ring-billed Gull     3
Black-capped Chickadee     1

Point Lookout
Number of species:     11

Brant     25
Common Eider     100
Harlequin Duck     8
Surf Scoter     1
Long-tailed Duck     15
Common Loon     2
Horned Grebe     3
Sanderling     3
Ring-billed Gull     X
Herring Gull     3
Great Black-backed Gull     3