Monday, February 28, 2011

February Wrap-up

Winter birding is tough. Weather is a problem for me and the birds. The cold doesn't bother them so much, but it bother me. When its windy they hide--and so do I.

So, naturally, we went to Berkshire County in Massachusetts this month, where it was both really cold and 1 day, really windy. And naturally, we found our best birds there: COMMON REDPOLL (a lifer for us) and Bohemian Waxwing, a rarity even up there and a species we'd only seen once before, a few years ago at Sandy Hook. That was a single bird. This was a flock.

Ironically, the weekend we traveled up to MA to seek out redpolls, they irrupted down here in NY. Reports from all over, including the feeders at Prospect Park, Jones Beach, Sandy Hook, Seven Presidents...all the places we like to bird. And yet, had we not gone to MA and chased them down here, I'm certain we'd have heard, "Oh, you just missed them, they were here 10 minutes ago."

I did a little better this month than last--72 species compared to 63. I don't consider it a successful month unless I see a minimum of 100.
Counties birded in February:
New York: Kings, Richmond.
New Jersey: Atlantic, Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth.
Massachusetts: Berkshire

Snow Goose  E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Brant          E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Canada Goose E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Mute Swan   Prospect Park
Tundra Swan E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Gadwall         E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
American Wigeon Brooklyn Bridge Park--Pier One
American Black Duck  E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Mallard                 Iselin
Northern Shoveler E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Northern Pintail E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Green-winged Teal Mount Loretto Unique Area
Ring-necked Duck Batsto Village
White-winged Scoter Sandy Hook
Long-tailed Duck  Sandy Hook
Bufflehead E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Hooded Merganser E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Common Merganser E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Red-breasted Merganser Sandy Hook
Ruddy Duck E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Red-throated Loon Sandy Hook
Common Loon  Seven Presidents Park
Pied-billed Grebe   Batsto Village
Horned Grebe Sandy Hook
Double-crested Cormorant Brooklyn Bridge Park--between Piers 3 & 4
Great Blue Heron E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Turkey Vulture Iselin
Bald Eagle County Rd 542
Northern Harrier E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Cooper's Hawk Gurley Ave
Red-tailed Hawk  Iselin
Merlin Marine Park--West
Peregrine Falcon   E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
American Coot Prospect Park
Sanderling Seven Presidents Park
Ring-billed Gull E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Herring Gull   E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Great Black-backed Gull E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Rock Pigeon    Brooklyn Bridge Park--Pier One
Mourning Dove 18 Aberdeen Avenue
Monk Parakeet Marine Park--West
Barred Owl E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Red-bellied Woodpecker 18 Aberdeen Avenue
Downy Woodpecker Prospect Park--Feeders
Hairy Woodpecker Prospect Park--Feeders
Blue Jay    18 Aberdeen Avenue
American Crow E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Carolina Chickadee E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Black-capped Chickadee Prospect Park
Tufted Titmouse E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Red-breasted Nuthatch Batsto Village
White-breasted Nuthatch    Prospect Park--Feeders
Carolina Wren Prospect Park
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Prospect Park
American Robin Brooklyn Bridge Park--Pier One
Northern Mockingbird Prospect Park
European Starling 18 Aberdeen Avenue
Bohemian Waxwing Windsor -- North Street
Yellow-rumped Warbler E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
American Tree Sparrow Prospect Park
Fox Sparrow Prospect Park--Feeders
Song Sparrow Brooklyn Bridge Park--Pier One
White-throated Sparrow 18 Aberdeen Avenue
Dark-eyed Junco 18 Aberdeen Avenue
Northern Cardinal 18 Aberdeen Avenue
Red-winged Blackbird Prospect Park--Feeders
Common Grackle             Prospect Park
House Finch Prospect Park--Feeders
COMMON REDPOLL            Coles Brook Farm
Pine Siskin Prospect Park--Feeders
American Goldfinch Prospect Park--Feeders
House Sparrow 18 Aberdeen Avenue

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Marine Park--West 2/27

Now that the snow has melted I decided to visit Marine Park--West* for the first time this year. I saw some good birds and took some poor photos of them. As was the case yesterday, most of the birds were in the water. 
Red-breasted Mergansers
But I wasn't there 5 minutes when I heard the familiar screech of Monk Parakeets and found them landing in the top of a tree.
I wandered around the paths for a couple of hours or more finding a few birds here and there. At one point there was a lot of activity, mostly chickadees and a Downy Woodpecker flitting about. Looking a little deeper into the trees I found what may have been the cause of their excitement: It's been a good weekend for Cooper's Hawks

I arrived at 9:37 A.M. and low tide was scheduled for 9:38, so I was able to walk way out on the beach, far off the beaten down marsh grass paths. I've already documented the many abandoned cars I've found along the paths happily most of those have been removed.  But low tide uncovered a virtual abandoned car parking lot. 
Whatever this vehicle once was, it now serves as mussel bed.
The thought occurs to me that perhaps all those cars I thought were removed were only moved underwater. It would take a lot of comparison to figure it out and isn't worth the bother. 

But remember: This is a city park. Someone is responsible for its maintenance. Someone is doing a really lousy job. Or maybe it's an attempt to form an artificial reef. Seems to work for the mussels. 

My list for the day: 
Number of species:    26
Brant    150
Canada Goose    42
American Wigeon    9
American Black Duck    14
Mallard    4
Northern Shoveler    86
Bufflehead    26
Red-breasted Merganser    10
Ruddy Duck    42
Pied-billed Grebe    2
Cooper's Hawk    1
Merlin    1
Ring-billed Gull    200
Herring Gull    100
Great Black-backed Gull    2
Rock Pigeon    6
Monk Parakeet    2
Downy Woodpecker    1
Blue Jay    1
American Crow    3
Black-capped Chickadee    8
European Starling    1
Yellow-rumped Warbler    2
American Tree Sparrow    2
Song Sparrow    1
Northern Cardinal    1

*This is eBird's new designation of what they were formerly calling Salt Marsh Nature Center-West. It is west of the Salt Marsh Nature Center, but if anything, it is southwest of Marine Park. And do I feel like changing all my tags? No. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mount Loretto 2/26

My first foray of the year to Mount Loretto turned up mostly ducks and geese. Green-winged Teal was the new addition for the year. It was among a flock of Hooded Mergansers. Beyond that, there were the usual Brant, Canada Geese, Mallards, Gadwalls and so forth.

Red-winged Blackbirds are beginning to stake out their territory. A Carolina Wren was singing. I was almost warm walking around the fields. And a sure precursor of spring--the vernal ponds are beginning to form.
However, Shari found the most interesting bird of the day off Richmond Avenue after we had lunch: An immature Cooper's Hawk on top of a light pole. And where did we have lunch? The Dove Diner--seems appropriate.

Day's List:
Number of species:    22
Brant    120
Canada Goose    80
Gadwall    23
American Black Duck    19
Mallard    27
Green-winged Teal    1
Bufflehead    13
Hooded Merganser    19
Red-breasted Merganser    11
Cooper's Hawk   1
Red-tailed Hawk    1
Ring-billed Gull    15
Herring Gull    15
Mourning Dove    2
Blue Jay    1
American Crow    1
Carolina Wren    1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling    30
Northern Cardinal    1
Red-winged Blackbird    4
Common Grackle    30

Monday, February 21, 2011

Berkshire County--Common Redpolls

I've always wanted to see what our friends' place in Berkshire County looked like in the winter, but until recently one had to use snowshoes or cross-country skis to access their house deep in the woods. Recently they put in a "driveway" if you consider a 1/3 of mile road as such, so getting there was now possible. Combine that with a gift card for The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge that's been sitting around since our wedding almost 4 years ago and a sudden deep and abiding need to add Common Redpoll our life lists and we journeyed up to the frozen North humming "Sweet Baby James" all the way.

Sue had checked with one of her friends, the local bird expert up there, and he had said the redpolls wouldn't be hard to find. In past years she's had them at their feeders but hadn't seen them this year.

Saturday was bitter cold and extraordinarily windy, making any birding aside from standing at their picture windows looking at the feeders out of the question. They had chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch and a couple of American Tree Sparrows. After an hour or so I saw a bird on the thistle feeder that didn't look like a sparrow. My first thought was female goldfinch, but of course, aside from the bill it was all wrong for that species and when Sue saw it she said, "Hey, they're back!" Suddenly a flock of them appeared on the ground, on the feeders and in the bare forsythia bush. Common Redpolls added to the life list.

Photos: Shari Zirlin
"We can go home, now," I told Shari.

The next day we met up with her friend Ed who knows where all the birds should be in the county. He was kind enough to act as our guide despite being in the middle of recovering from a rather painful foot operation.

There were two species he thought would interest us. The first one we found pretty quickly after first searching Flintstone Road (really) in Windsor, we found, one street north (called North Street) a flock of Bohemian Waxwings feasting on withered apples.
Photos: Shari Zirlin

For some reason, waxwings (Cedar or Bohemian) look like space cadets out of a low-budget 50's sci-fi movie. There were at least 10 birds in this flock, though others have reported flocks from 90 to 300! Ed said they're called Bohemians because they tend to wander over a large areas, as the original Bohemians were thought to do, so I guess there is just a hint of racism in the name. 

We spent the rest of the morning fruitless looking for a Northern Shrike. This has become our nemesis bird: we spent a frigid day on
Disposal Road in NJ looking for one, had one taken away from us at Jones Beach when it turned out to be a Loggerhead Shrike, and now after a couple of hours scanning tree tops we were still not rewarded. 

The rest of the day didn't bring much--some more redpolls (old hat), and some expected winter birds. In all we only tallied about 11 species, but I consider it a "quality over quantity" weekend. 

The weekend's list, for the record:
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Bohemian Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Friday, February 18, 2011

Prospect Park 2/18--Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A spring-like day and my duty as a citizen-scientist to participate in Cornell's Great Backyard Bird Count took me out this morning to Prospect Park. Prospect Park is my backyard. The best bird I saw was the last bird I saw--Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the Rose Garden. I saw it fluttering among the bare tree branches on the northern perimeter. It's rushing the season and that's all right with me.

Other new birds for the year: Hairy Woodpecker on the suet by the feeders--on one side was the Hairy, on the other a Downy Woodpecker, making the identification so easy; Common Grackles have returned; and I heard my first Carolina Wren of the year.

I am annoyed, though, that I missed 2 Ring-necked Ducks spotted by another birder on the lake. I can't imagine how I could have overlooked them. Maybe my timing was off, again.

Two lists:
Prospect Park
Number of species:    32
Canada Goose    153
Mute Swan    6
American Black Duck    4
Mallard    165
Northern Shoveler    77
Ruddy Duck    1
Red-tailed Hawk    4
American Coot    5
Ring-billed Gull    200
Herring Gull    100
Great Black-backed Gull    2
Rock Pigeon    1
Mourning Dove    8
Red-bellied Woodpecker    2
Downy Woodpecker    2
Blue Jay    18
Black-capped Chickadee    21
White-breasted Nuthatch    2
Carolina Wren    1    Near Wellhouse
Ruby-crowned Kinglet    1    Rose Garden

American Robin    9    In sumac near peninsula
Northern Mockingbird    1    Behind Boathouse
European Starling    13
Song Sparrow    2    One behind Boathouse, one in Vale
White-throated Sparrow    10
Dark-eyed Junco    8    Vale
Northern Cardinal    20
Red-winged Blackbird    1    Lake shore
Common Grackle    4    Boathouse
House Finch    4    Breeze Hill
American Goldfinch    6    Five on Breeze Hill, one bathing in ice puddle on lake
House Sparrow    30

Number of species:    16
Mourning Dove    3
Red-bellied Woodpecker    1
Downy Woodpecker    3
Hairy Woodpecker    1
Blue Jay    5
Black-capped Chickadee    6
Tufted Titmouse    1
White-breasted Nuthatch    2
White-throated Sparrow    3

Dark-eyed Junco    1
Northern Cardinal    5
Red-winged Blackbird    1
House Finch    1
Pine Siskin    2
American Goldfinch    5
House Sparrow    2

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pier One 2/17--Ruddy Ducks (Finally)

They are there, the Ruddy Ducks. I was starting to get just a little paranoid that I wasn't seeing them. Today there were 8 floating off the pilings. Here's the odd thing: When I went back about 1/2 hour later after covering the land area of the park (with little success), I couldn't find the Ruddy Ducks again. All the other ducks were there, but no Ruddies. It is enough to make one doubt one's senses.

Brant numbers seem to be increasing there; I counted 59 today.
I imagine the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy is not going to be so happy with these avian visitors once they notice all the fertilizer they're leaving behind.

Note to self: Don't sit on the lawns at Pier One.

Lists for the day:
Brooklyn Bridge Park--between Piers 3 & 4
Number of species:    6
Gadwall    4
American Black Duck    3
Bufflehead    2
Double-crested Cormorant    1
Great Black-backed Gull    1
Mourning Dove    1
Brooklyn Bridge Park--Pier One
Number of species:    9
Brant    59
Gadwall    12
American Black Duck    7
Bufflehead    1
Ruddy Duck    8
Double-crested Cormorant    1
Ring-billed Gull    15
Herring Gull    2
House Sparrow    4

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seven Presidents Park / Sandy Hook 2/13

Another weekend spent in NJ due to family problems. Shari & I got away on Sunday to Long Branch and Sandy Hook and managed to add 3 new birds for the year--not much, but something. Typically, the White-winged Crossbills we'd hoped to see at Seven Presidents were spotted a half hour after we left.

We just haven't been able to get in sync with where the birds are this year. Weather and family contingencies have played their part, but still, I feel that we should be doing better.

Our lists:
Seven Presidents Park
Number of species:    11
Canada Goose    80
Common Merganser    2
Common Loon    1
Sanderling    16
Ring-billed Gull    100
Herring Gull    100
Great Black-backed Gull    2
Mourning Dove    4
Red-breasted Nuthatch    1
American Robin    15
European Starling    25

Sandy Hook
Number of species:    18
Brant    100
Canada Goose    100
American Black Duck    100
White-winged Scoter    1
Long-tailed Duck    3
Bufflehead    2
Red-breasted Merganser    4
Red-throated Loon    1

Horned Grebe    1    Spermaceti Cove
Turkey Vulture    3
Ring-billed Gull    200
Herring Gull    100
Great Black-backed Gull    3
Mourning Dove    1
American Robin    100
European Starling    25
Song Sparrow    1
White-throated Sparrow    1

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Prospect Park 2/12

A cold icy walk in Prospect Park this morning yielded some good birds, despite having to watch my feet more than the bushes, trees, and sky: American Tree Sparrow hopping around near the Boathouse Pond; 4 Fox Sparrows beneath the feeders; & a slew of Pine Siskins on the thistle sock--I listed 5, but there were probably more, it's just that they were jumping around so much it was hard to count.

I was also surprised to see that today was the first time this year I've seen Red-winged Blackbirds. There were a lot, males and females. Soon, the males will be staking out their territories and there won't be flocks of them like this one. Soon=Spring.

Prospect Park
Number of species:    18
Canada Goose    40
Mute Swan    6
Mallard    205
Northern Shoveler    12
Red-tailed Hawk    1    LP 249
American Coot    10
Ring-billed Gull    300
Herring Gull    10
Rock Pigeon    25
Mourning Dove    5
Red-bellied Woodpecker    2
Blue Jay    10
Black-capped Chickadee    3
Tufted Titmouse    1    Terrace Bridge
American Tree Sparrow    1    Boathouse Pond
White-throated Sparrow    5
Northern Cardinal    4
House Sparrow    11
Prospect Park--Feeders
Number of species:    14
Mourning Dove    3
Downy Woodpecker    1
Black-capped Chickadee    5
Tufted Titmouse    1
White-breasted Nuthatch    1
European Starling    1
Fox Sparrow    4
White-throated Sparrow    20
Dark-eyed Junco    5
Northern Cardinal    6
Red-winged Blackbird    15
House Finch    6
Pine Siskin    5
American Goldfinch    15

      (This was a holiday when I was a kid.)       

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Possible Epiphany at Pier One

UPDATE 2/15: I see that 2 Ruddy Ducks have been reported at Pier One by a birder whose identification skills I would certainly trust. SO:
I went down to Pier One again today. There was nothing new, though while I was scanning the ducks around the pilings I thought I saw a Ruddy Duck. They've been reported there this year, but I still haven't seen one, which struck me as odd since I'm there a lot and you'd think I'd have stumbled upon one by now.

However, upon closer examination my Ruddy turned out to be a hen Bufflehead. That's when I had my possible epiphany--maybe the Ruddies being reported are actually Buffleheads. After all, a hen Bufflehead could easily be mistaken for a winter plumaged Ruddy, either drake or hen. Both species have white patches on their faces, they're about the same size, and they both dive. The difference, of course, is that hen Buffleheads have a small white patch below the eye, while the Ruddies, both M & F, have much larger patches, with the hen having a dark stripe running through hers.

I'm not saying that's the case, that the birds are being misidentified, but there have been some suspect sightings down there of late, leading one to wonder. Of course, I could go down there tomorrow, spot a RUDU and then have to put a big black X through this whole entry.

Today's little list:
Number of species:    8
Brant    27
Canada Goose    3
Gadwall    15
American Black Duck    10
Bufflehead    2
Ring-billed Gull    6
Herring Gull    3
American Robin    1

Monday, February 7, 2011

American Wigeon at Pier One

A drake American Wigeon was dabbling with the the usual ducks and geese in the little impoundment by the piers this morning. This makes species # 53 for the park. I'm not counting the dubious records from eBird, i.e. I know there wasn't a Western Reef-Heron there in July of 2007. That listing is off by about 15 miles, since there was one in Drier-Offerman Park around that time--Shari & I walked through  a homeless encampment to see it.

Not many passerines yet--3 Song Sparrows and my first robin of the year at the park. It's a big myth that robins herald spring. When the Red-winged Blackbirds start singing "Conka-ree," then spring is nigh.

Number of species: 11
Brant 5
Canada Goose 2
Gadwall 9
American Wigeon 1 Impoundment
American Black Duck 13
Mallard 3 Impoundment
Bufflehead 1 Closer to Pier Two
Ring-billed Gull 4
Herring Gull 1
American Robin 1
Song Sparrow 3 

Brig & Batsto

Photo: Shari Zirlin
We were finally able to do some serious birding this month. We drove down to Brigantine and added some new birds for the year--mostly waterfowl but the highlight was the very well camouflaged BARRED OWL another birder pointed out to us.  This was my first Jersey Barred Owl. I've only encountered them in my friends' woods up in Massachusetts. Other interesting birds @ Brig were Tundra Swans, Snow Geese and Northern Pintails.

We had hoped to find Rough-legged Hawk there; everyone else has, it seems, but there was no luck with that species--possibly a raptor that flew past us and then was obscured by trees, but neither of us got even a quarter-way decent look at it. The owl was a happy substitute for the miss.

Instead of going around the 8 mile drive again we decided to go to Batsto Village about 15 miles northwest of Brig. We've passed the sign for it every time we've gone to Brig and just the name alone, pronounced explosively--Bat-STO--has made us want to visit but usually we're too tired to work up the ambition. Today we had enough energy--just the fact that there was virtually no snow on the ground seem to energize Shari.

Batsto Village is a restored iron foundry town in the Pine Barrens that was originally started prior to the Revolutionary War.  They made the bullets and buckets for George Washington. It continued make iron, then window glass up to the 1870's, with the foundry (& town) changing hands a couple of times. They seem to like to buy and sell entire towns in south Jersey . Eventually Joseph Wharton bought the whole town and a huge chunk of the Pine Barrens with plans to dam all the streams and rivers and sell the water to Camden and Philadelphia. That didn't work out, so instead he kept the town and ran it, judging from some of the rules posted, as a benign prison camp. The place is similar to the other preserved iron foundry town farther north in Allaire State Park, but it seems like many more buildings have been preserved--along with Wharton's mansion. My favorite tidbit of information was that he had the entrance to the town's general store moved so that it faced away from the house. He didn't want to see the serfs going about their business.
Photo: Shari Zirlin

The day was topped off with a BALD EAGLE we saw perched in a tree next to what I believe was the Mullica River. So, first bird owl, last bird eagle. Full lists for a decent day of birding:

E. B. Forsythe NWR--Wildlife Drive
Number of species: 25 
Snow Goose    1200
Brant    600
Canada Goose    175
Tundra Swan    24
Gadwall    5
American Black Duck    500
Mallard    15
Northern Shoveler    5
Northern Pintail    50
Bufflehead    60
Hooded Merganser    1
Common Merganser    4    Experimental Pond
Ruddy Duck    1
Great Blue Heron    1
Turkey Vulture    2
Northern Harrier    2
Peregrine Falcon    1
Ring-billed Gull    100
Herring Gull    100
Great Black-backed Gull    2
American Crow   8
Barred Owl    1    Gull Pond
Carolina Chickadee    1
Tufted Titmouse    2
Yellow-rumped Warbler    2

Batsto Village
Number of species:    9
Canada Goose   14
American Black Duck    3
Ring-necked Duck    31
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron    1
Red-bellied Woodpecker    1
Carolina Chickadee    2
Red-breasted Nuthatch    1
Dark-eyed Junco    12
County Rd 542
Number of species:    1
Bald Eagle    1    In tree next to river