Sunday, February 28, 2010

Look Up!

It always pays to look up (providing you're wearing glasses). Today, while waiting for the bus at the corner of Union & Clinton Streets, 4 Monk Parakeets flew overhead going east and on the antenna of a brownstone sat an American Kestrel

Our original plan of walking around the Botanic Gardens was kiboshed because they were closed for safety reasons. After what happened in Central Park, I imagine they didn't want any of their trees crashing down on patrons. So we headed over to Prospect Park. Lots of birds at the feeders and on the lake, but nothing to compare to the bus stop. 
Prospect Park
Observation date:     2/28/10
Number of species:     27
Canada Goose     50
Mute Swan     6
Wood Duck     1
Mallard     220
Northern Shoveler     2
Hooded Merganser     1
Ruddy Duck     20
Ring-billed Gull     280
Herring Gull     2
Rock Pigeon     5
Mourning Dove     11
Red-bellied Woodpecker     4
Downy Woodpecker     2
Blue Jay     5
American Crow     6
Black-capped Chickadee     1
Red-breasted Nuthatch     2
White-breasted Nuthatch     1
American Robin     6
European Starling     20
White-throated Sparrow     15
Dark-eyed Junco     10
Northern Cardinal     16
Red-winged Blackbird     1
House Finch     3
American Goldfinch     2
House Sparrow     8

Friday, February 26, 2010

Between the city plows and the neighbors

shoveling the snow on their walks and on their cars onto our car, we might not see it until April.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lumps and Blobs

Here's one my techniques for winter birding: Look up into the branches of bare trees and put your binoculars on any lumps or blobs you see up there. Best result for today was a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting high up in a tree overlooking a small meadow. I came back 20 minutes later and it had not moved. Big blob among the thin branches.

It's also a good way to find Cedar Waxwings.

Prospect Park
Number of species:     37
Canada Goose     50
Mute Swan     7     Two on Boathouse Pond
Wood Duck     1     Boathouse Pond
American Black Duck     6
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid)     1
Mallard     230
Northern Shoveler     36
Hooded Merganser     1     Drake, Three Sisters
Common Merganser     1     Drake, mid-lake
Ruddy Duck     53
Red-tailed Hawk     1
American Coot     8
Ring-billed Gull     250     Around 50 on the ballfields.
Herring Gull     15
Great Black-backed Gull     4
Rock Pigeon     20
Mourning Dove     25
Red-bellied Woodpecker     2
Downy Woodpecker     3
Hairy Woodpecker     1
Blue Jay     13
American Crow     10
Black-capped Chickadee     4
Tufted Titmouse     4
White-breasted Nuthatch     1
Carolina Wren     1     In lake phragmites
American Robin     75
European Starling     150
Fox Sparrow     1     Lullwater Trail
Song Sparrow     1     On lake ice
White-throated Sparrow     30
Dark-eyed Junco     2
Northern Cardinal     19
Red-winged Blackbird     5
Common Grackle     1     Lullwater Trail
House Finch     5     On Lullwater trail & at feeders
American Goldfinch     3
House Sparrow     12

Saturday, February 20, 2010


IRS worker killed in crash was a loyal family man
Just once I'd like a headline like the above to read:

Disposal Road

10 weeks.
10 weeks a Northern Shrike has been hanging around Disposal Road in Lyndhurst, NJ.
Finally we drove out there this morning and  hung around from around 9:45 to 1:30 this afternoon. Naturally, no shrike.

Only New Jersey could have a road named Disposal. Its name refers to the the no-longer active landfills through which is runs. That big mound behind the fence is one of them. At least they don't call it Disposal Avenue, or Disposal Boulevard.

They are trying to change the name to Amvets Way in reference to the giant, incongruous carillon that the Amvets organization has built at about the halfway point on the road, overlooking the impoundments of the Meadowlands Commission's DeKorte Park. The carillon chimes every 15 minutes and sounds remarkably like Big Ben (or the intro music to Wall Street Week) on the 1/2 and 1/4 hours. On the hour is plays a long, and to me, unrecognizable tune.

To answer the obvious question, "Why would anyone build a carillon on a potholed road in the middle of abandoned dumps?" the short answer is that they got snookered. Great plans were set forth for the dumps: golf courses, condo developments, shopping centers. However, the company that was to undertake all this development in exchange for the usual unconscionable tax breaks, figured out that capping the toxic dumps was a lot more difficult that it was supposed and backed out of the deal, leaving the carillon in an existential position similar to the tree falling in the forest with no one around. However, happily for the carillon builders, birders abound, like us, looking for a Northern Shrike. (Why didn't we take a photo of the carillon? We must have been too distraught at not finding the bird.)
We did see a lot of Northern Harriers hovering over the dump (lot of good eating in there), and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks and what might have been a Merlin speeding by. In the middle of the day we drove a short distance to a place called Kearny Marsh  and there we found one Common Moorhen, which is a rare bird for NJ, so that sort of made the trip worthwhile.

Truthfully, even though we didn't find our target bird it was fun to wander in The Meadowlands, which is criss-crossed by The Turnpike and the Pulaski Skyway and off ramps and on ramps and railroads and jets zooming in and out of Newark and find as many birds as we did. When I ride NJ Transit I always look into the ditches along the tracks and usually, especially in the warmer months, find egrets and herons. Pretty amazing what birds will put up with--I couldn't stand being around the carillon but it apparently doesn't bother the shrike. Or maybe it finally just got sick of the noise too and took off to its northern home.
The lists for the day:

Richard W. Dekorte Park
Observation date:     2/20/10
Notes:     Mostly on Disposal Road, unsuccessfully looking for the shrike.
Number of species:     15
Canada Goose     10
Mallard     30
Northern Shoveler     1
Northern Pintail     2
Northern Harrier     6
Red-tailed Hawk     2
Ring-billed Gull     X
Herring Gull     2
Great Black-backed Gull     1
Mourning Dove     3
American Robin     1
Northern Mockingbird     4
Song Sparrow     5
White-throated Sparrow     5
Northern Cardinal     2

Kearny Marsh
Observation date:     2/20/10
Number of species:     6
Canada Goose     25
Mallard     1
Northern Shoveler     1
Common Moorhen     1
American Coot     12
American Crow     2

Friday, February 19, 2010

Brant in Prospect Park

I had just scared up my first Merlin of the year off the Terrace Bridge, when I ran into Peter scanning the lake from his Parks Dept truck. He pointed out a flock of Brant to me on the other side of the lake shore.

I've always wondered why you don't see Brant in the park and finally figured that they prefer salt water. I also think that the hundreds of Canada Geese foraging on the grass leaves little room for them. So 82 (I counted each one) Brant on the lake is notable. 10 seconds after I finished counting them they took off en masse, heading in the direction of the Parade Grounds.

I had to hurry home because we lost our Internet connection, so I missed a couple of birds I normally see--Red-breasted Nuthatch and Tufted Titmouse. Still, I'd consider the 2 1/2 hours there well-spent. When I got home I rebooted the system and voila, we're back on line.

Prospect Park
Number of species:     36

Brant     82     On Lake
Canada Goose     61
Mute Swan     6
Wood Duck     1
American Black Duck     6
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid)     2
Mallard     200
Northern Shoveler     26
Ruddy Duck     33
Merlin     1     Off Terrace Bridge
American Coot     8
Ring-billed Gull     300
Herring Gull     13
Great Black-backed Gull     1
Rock Pigeon     25
Mourning Dove     7
Red-bellied Woodpecker     2
Downy Woodpecker     2
Hairy Woodpecker     2
Blue Jay     7
American Crow     9
Black-capped Chickadee     3
White-breasted Nuthatch     1
American Robin     60
Northern Mockingbird     2
European Starling     110
Fox Sparrow     1     Feeders
Song Sparrow     4
Swamp Sparrow     2     Phragmites on lake shore
White-throated Sparrow     30
Dark-eyed Junco     15
Northern Cardinal     26
Red-winged Blackbird     6
Common Grackle     1
House Finch     4
American Goldfinch     1
House Sparrow     9

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prospect Park is, Again, My Backyard

Mallards & Wood Duck, photo by Shari Zirlin

Prospect Park
Observation date:     2/15/10 (first number is GBBC)
Number of species:     32
Canada Goose     10/50
Mute Swan     6/6
Wood Duck     1/1     Boathouse
American Black Duck     2/3
Mallard     50/200
Northern Shoveler    7/7
Ruddy Duck     13/13
American Coot     5/6
Ring-billed Gull     200/300
Herring Gull     2/2
Great Black-backed Gull     1/1
Rock Pigeon     5/10
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1/1     Feeders
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     1/1     Lullwater
Downy Woodpecker     2/3     Feeders
Blue Jay     1/6
American Crow     1/1
Black-capped Chickadee     2/3
Tufted Titmouse     2/3
White-breasted Nuthatch     2/3
Carolina Wren     1/1     Boathouse
American Robin     5/25
European Starling     1/1
Fox Sparrow     1/1     Feeders
Swamp Sparrow     1/1     Lake shore
White-throated Sparrow     5/30
Dark-eyed Junco     8/12
Northern Cardinal     3/7
Red-winged Blackbird     3/4     Feeders
House Finch     2/2     Feeders
American Goldfinch     3/3     Feeders
House Sparrow     2/5

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Here's a Switch!

Squirrels are pests when it comes to bird feeders. If they're not acrobatically defying every anti-squirrel device ever invented, then they're on the ground, sucking up all the seeds that fall down and pushing out the ground feeders.

This fellow, at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, was really going to town on that brain-like fruit. I'm fairly certain it's an Osage orange, though where he got it is a mystery since those trees aren't near this spot. Whatever it is, as you can see, he was really a messy eater. The fruit was full of seeds which were broadcast to the ground from his perch. Sparrows and cardinals were dancing around in the snow eating them up. For once, a squirrel was helping, not hindering the birds. Ain't nature grand!?

Brooklyn Botanic Garden is My Backyard

We wandered around the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens earlier today. Going there had the advantage of not having to worry about finding a parking space when we got home--all the snow on the streets just makes it more difficult--and it was one of the few places we could think of where the paths would be relatively clear. We didn't see a lot of birds but they were all entertaining. Robins, White-throated Sparrows, cardinals and starlings all foraging on the few patches of grass that had been exposed on the hillsides. I know starlings are considered a nuisance bird and that they don't "belong" in North America (some doofus in the 19th century thought it would be a good idea to have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare released in Central Park; most didn't make it, but the starlings thrived and their population exploded all across the continent) but if you really just look at them, they're are very pretty birds with their speckles and iridescent feathers.

It was good to see pristine, untrampled snow. Here is Shari doing her best Vanna White. Well Herb, you seem to have acre of virgin snow. Congratulations!
The list for the day, GBBC counts first:
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Number of species:     11
Red-tailed Hawk     1/1
Rock Pigeon     3/3
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1/1
Blue Jay     1/1
White-breasted Nuthatch     1/2
American Robin     10/30
Northern Mockingbird     1/1
European Starling     62/200
White-throated Sparrow     5/35
Northern Cardinal     3/9
House Sparrow     1/1

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Central Park is My Backyard

Shari & I went to Central Park this morning before she met a friend at the AMNH. I don't especially enjoy birding Central Park because it is usually too full of people to make birding enjoyable and it is so big that you can only go to one or two spots in a day which limits the number of birds you'll find. In Prospect Park, by contrast, you rapidly pass through a number of habitats, plus you have the water course to follow and structure your trip.

It was cold and a little slippery, but not nearly as icy as PP was yesterday. We went first to The Ramble because the feeders are usually reliable and while there were no surprises (like siskins last year) we found the usual variety of birds, just not in great numbers.

Later I walked around the reservoir. I'd never done that. I always get turned around once I'm in the middle of Central Park, so going out of my way to walk in a circle has never been that appealing. I was halfway around when I read a sign directing everyone to walk or run counterclockwise. Naturally, I was walking clockwise. Happily there wasn't much foot traffic on the path, since it had not been shoveled--otherwise I'd probably have been flattened before I took 10 steps. Dumb rube from Prospect Park that I am.

The reservoir looks big. I was dubious about walking all around it. But it didn't take me any time at all to circumperambulate the perimeter. The only real surprise was a Bufflehead, plus 2 crows standing on the ice among all the gulls. I like the contrast when they do that.

The list for the day (with GBBC numbers first).
Central Park
Observation date:     2/13/10
Number of species:     21

Canada Goose     5/5
American Black Duck     1/1
Mallard     10/36
Bufflehead     1/1
Ring-billed Gull     200/300
Herring Gull     2/5
Great Black-backed Gull     14/16
Rock Pigeon     5/20
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1/1
Downy Woodpecker     1/2
Blue Jay     1/5
American Crow     2/3
Black-capped Chickadee     1/2
White-breasted Nuthatch     1/1
American Robin     1/1
White-throated Sparrow    20/50
Dark-eyed Junco     4/6
Northern Cardinal     2/3
Common Grackle     1/1
House Finch     4/6
House Sparrow     20/25

Friday, February 12, 2010


A million moths attracted to vanilla light. 

Prospect Park is My Backyard

Every February the Cornell Lab of Ornithology organizes the ineptly named "Great Backyard Bird Count," and encourages all us citizen scientists to go out to count birds for at least 15 minutes anywhere we want--it doesn't have to be a backyard. List obsessed as I am I went to Prospect Park this morning and kept 2 running lists in my head--one for the total number of birds of each species I found and one with the largest count of birds of each species I saw at one time. So, while I saw about 220 Mallards altogether, for the GBBC I listed the 127 I saw sitting on the ice at the lake. The other were over by the Boathouse or else swimming farther along the lake shore.

I don't understand why they want the largest count. I suppose I could find out if I looked through their site long enough but I don't really care. If they're happy, I'm happy to make another list.

The 10 or so inches of snow in the park made walking around a slog. Virtually none of the paths had been shoveled or plowed. I forgot, as usual, to take the camera. The geese plodding across the ice were risible, and 100 or more them wandering around on the snow would have been a great high contrast photo.

With the big "blizzard" we had this week our birding opportunities have become limited. They only plow a small section of the path around the pond at Jamaica Bay, there's no guarantee the roads are clear at Jones Beach, Dead Horse Bay is probably inaccessible and anyplace in NJ, where they've had two "blizzards," is out of the question. I haven't been seeing many reports the last few days from anywhere. We were thinking of going back to Hunter Island at Orchard Beach this weekend, but after tromping around Prospect Park today, I told Shari we probably didn't want to re-enact Robert Scott's return from the South Pole just to see some chickadees and woodpeckers.

The "interesting" birds today were Fox Sparrows and a Hermit Thrush. I hate when someone asks me if I've seen any interesting birds because if I told them, "Yeah, I saw a Fox Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush," they wouldn't think it was interesting or know why I thought it was interesting. Usually I just say, "Nope."

(The first number is for GBBC, the second number for eBird.)

Prospect Park
Observation date:     2/12/10
Number of species:     33

Canada Goose     125/205
Mute Swan     6/6
Wood Duck     1/1
American Black Duck     2/3
Mallard     127/220
Northern Shoveler    16/26
Ruddy Duck     8/9
American Coot    5/8
Ring-billed Gull     325/325
Herring Gull     2/3
Great Black-backed Gull     1/1
Rock Pigeon     9/25
Mourning Dove    3/3
Red-bellied Woodpecker     1/1
Downy Woodpecker     1/3
Blue Jay     1/5
American Crow     1/1     Lake ice.
Black-capped Chickadee     2/4
Tufted Titmouse     1/1     Back of Upper Pool
White-breasted Nuthatch     2
Hermit Thrush     1/1     Hill by Maryland Monument.
American Robin     11/20
European Starling     2/4
Fox Sparrow     1/2     One at feeders, one on hill by Maryland          Monument
Song Sparrow     2/5
White-throated Sparrow     5/25
Dark-eyed Junco    9/12
Northern Cardinal     3/9
Red-winged Blackbird    2/3
Common Grackle     1/1
House Finch     2/3
American Goldfinch    3/3
House Sparrow     5/15

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Owl Walk with No Owls

We went to Orchard Beach/Hunter Island this morning for the "Superb Owl" walk with my brother and a friend of his who knows where the owls are. Last year we saw 2 Long-eared Owls almost immediately. This year, not much luck. We found pellets from Saw-whet and Great Horned Owls, but the owls themselves remained elusive.

No Dovekie last week, no owls this week. Still, I knew we'd see ducks and we did find quite a few of them, plus the bonus was when my brother spotted a Killdeer, a bird I don't normally expect to find A) on a beach and B) in the winter.

Walking around Orchard Beach, looking out on the sound it is hard to believe you're in The Bronx with all the freight that term carries. Afterward we went to City Island for lunch and there, a little fishing village gone to sleep in the winter,  it is well nigh impossible to believe that it is part of NYC, much less The Bronx.

Orchard Beach/Hunter Island
Observation date:     2/7/10
Number of species:     19

Brant     4
Canada Goose     13
Gadwall     5
American Wigeon     20
American Black Duck     25
Bufflehead     10
Common Goldeneye     4
Red-breasted Merganser     3
Killdeer     1
Herring Gull     15
Great Black-backed Gull     1
Rock Pigeon     6
Red-bellied Woodpecker     2
Downy Woodpecker     2
Blue Jay     4
American Crow     2
White-breasted Nuthatch     2
Northern Mockingbird     1
Northern Cardinal     1

Monday, February 1, 2010


Today, down at Fulton Ferry, I saw a large flock of about 100 Brant flying over the East River. Brant don't fly in formation like Canada Geese; they're more like a crowd of birds flying in the same direction. What interested me was that even though they have no leader, they all flew in the same direction, circling over the river a few times before they landed in it, and, more interesting, they all beat their wings in unison and glided in unison. Their timing was precise; there was no delay from the front of the flock to the back of the flock. They all stopped beating their wings at the same moment and started flapping again at exactly the same time.

You'll see lots of bird species doing this, as if there is a group mind, but they seem to fly in tighter formations and I don't know if they have the same marching band precision these relatively big birds achieve. How do they do it?

Later, on the lawn, I saw about 45 Brant grazing on the brown grass of Empire State Park, With them was one Canada Goose, huge next to them, wandering among the flock and seeming completely out of place.