Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Backyard 8/31--Common Nighthawks

The answer to the question I posed to Shari a couple of weeks ago, "I wonder if we get nighthawks out here?" is, "YES, do we ever!"

Around 6:30 this evening I looked up and said to Shari, "There's some kind of hawk up there." But it didn't look like a falcon--it more closely resembled a gigantic swallow. Shari spotted another, then I saw another. Bright white markings under the wings were all the field mark I needed. I went to the car, pulled out our Sibley's and sure enough: Common Nighthawks.

Now that I was sure I trained my binoculars on first one, then another, then another.  By this time I had wandered into the middle of the street, to the amusement of our neighbors across from us. I'm guessing they  think after our first couple of weeks here that while we're nice  people, we sure do have our obsessions. But they got into the spirit and started pointing out more birds gliding above, perfectly lit by the low evening sun. "This is so cool," I said to D------ & S--, "seeing all these Common Nighthawks."

"Oh, we see them all the time," D----- said, "but they're just birds until some wiseass moves across the street and starts giving them names."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Backyard 8/29--Ovenbird

Before Irene came along on Saturday, we took down the feeders we'd put up to prevent them from being blown away.  Sunday evening, as the wind died down we started putting back a few and this morning completed the task, including putting up a couple we hadn't deployed previously.  We may have gotten carried away; there are 2 sock thistle feeders, 3 hummingbird feeders, and 5 seed feeders scattered around the property, so that makes 10, count 'em, 10 in all.

Happily, they all attract birds. Hummers come to all 3 of the feeders, the socks have been covered with goldfinches and House Finches, and the seed feeders do a heavy traffic in chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, sparrows, and cardinals. So we're delighted with our results and I think, with our trip to Lowe's this morning to buy a baffle, we've made the feeders high enough to be inaccessible to deer (who knew deer liked bird seed?) and have them far enough away from tree trunks and branches to make them difficult for squirrels.

However, the best bird today was one that doesn't come to feeders since it is a warbler and their diet is bugs. This morning Shari spotted from our bedroom window an Ovenbird skulking around in the leaf litter at the edge where our lawn meets the woods.  At first she thought it was a thrush (which would have been cool) but then spotted the striped head and knew what she had. I took back my binoculars from her and got on the bird. It is by no means a rare bird (though it is my first of the year), but I just never considered that we'd have one here.  The birds I'm looking out for are Red-breasted Nuthatches and Brown Creepers.

Late this afternoon, Shari and I took the walk through the WMA to the lake.  We added a couple of new birds to the list for that spot--a flyover Northern Flicker and a few Yellow Warblers mixed in with some Pine Warblers.
12 Species
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
13 species

Mourning Dove  10
Northern Flicker  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  2
Blue Jay  1
Carolina Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  3
Yellow Warbler  3
Pine Warbler  4
Chipping Sparrow  1
House Finch  4
American Goldfinch  2

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene in Whiting

It rained very hard.
It was pretty windy.
(What is this "it" to which we always refer?)
The tornado watch alert that took over the TV with a sudden buzzing and flashing added a frisson of excitement to the early morning.
Brown pine needles litter the street.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How have your first two weeks in Whiting been, Mr. Z?

Great except for the earthquakes, blackouts, and hurricanes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Whiting WMA

The main selling point of this house was the 1100 acre wildlife management area behind it and just steps from our kitchen door. It is crisscrossed with wide sandy trails. Unfortunately these trails are not mapped anywhere, nor are there any blazes on the trails or any other kind of trail markings. You better know where you're going.

Shari & I got "lost" the first time we explored the area, before we had even closed on the house. We came out of the woods about 3 blocks from where we started.  Still, it was nerve-wracking not knowing exactly where we were.

Using Google's aerial views and an iPad I've been able to figure out a small portion of the WMA, enough to give me a good 2 or 3 mile walk in the woods. On the aerial view there is a lake and each morning for a week I would walk along the trails a little farther, marking them by digging arrows in the sand with my foot, meanwhile birding all along. Yesterday, I decided to go all the way and find the lake.  When I did I felt as Lewis & Clark must have felt when they found the Pacific--elation, relief, surprise.  Perhaps I exaggerate.
I went back this morning and took a photo of the lake for Sue in the Berkshires because it immediately reminded me of the swamp at the foot of her road--dead trees in the middle of the placid water and even a Wood Duck box attached to tree trunk.
In the fall and winter I suspect this will be a great place for ducks. While I was there yesterday not a blessed bird was on the water. A Turkey Vulture hovered overhead and Downy Woodpecker was pecking away at a scrub oak, but no herons or ducks to be found.

That will change with seasons. I'm looking forward to fall migration (which has certainly started in Prospect Park according to all the tweets I'm getting) to see what turns up in the Pine Barrens.    Summer, of course, is not the ideal time to survey an area but I've been pleased with some of the species I've found, especially in the open "meadows" where there have been an abundance of Eastern Bluebirds.  3 species of warbler so far.  The Common Yellowthroat was a surprise since it was far away from water; the Pine Warblers in pine trees were not.

My Whiting WMA month list as of today:
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Kingbird
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Pine Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brigantine 8/20

We zipped on down to Brig today--what a joy to be able to do that from the new house. As Shari said, it is a lot easier to enjoy the 8 mile wildlife drive when you haven't already driven 100 miles just to get there.

The shorebird activity was pretty good. A thousand, probably more, Semipalmated Sandpipers. There were likely some Least, maybe a Western, who knows, even a White-rumped mixed in to the various flocks but unless I'm standing practically on top of one of those I don't dare call it--especially now when the semis themselves have such variety in their plumage. Both yellowlegs were there in good numbers, some dowitchers, a Willet, which was a tiny surprise, and one Ruddy Turnstone.

The 2 highlights of the day were the Spotted Sandpiper that was incongruously running along the dry road, dashing in and out of the grass edges and the 3 Caspian Terns we spotted loafing on a sandbar along with 6 Black Skimmers, terns, gulls, peeps and dowitchers.
36 Species
Canada Goose  75
Mute Swan  3    Gull Pond
Mallard  10
Double-crested Cormorant  100
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret  100
Snowy Egret  20
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  60
Osprey  9
Black-bellied Plover  15
Semipalmated Plover  20
American Oystercatcher  4
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  10
Willet  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  20
Ruddy Turnstone  1
Semipalmated Sandpiper  1000
Short-billed Dowitcher  10
Laughing Gull  100
Herring Gull  20
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Caspian Tern  3    NW Pool
Common Tern  100
Forster's Tern  20
Black Skimmer  6    NW Pool
Mourning Dove  2
Willow Flycatcher  1
Eastern Kingbird  2
American Crow  2
Tree Swallow  2
Gray Catbird  1
European Starling  100
Red-winged Blackbird  1
American Goldfinch  4

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Backyard Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Last year, Shari got a hummingbird feeder as a premium from one of the bird or environmental organizations she belongs to. She followed the recipe enclosed with the feeder to make the sugar solution and hung it on our fire escape in Brooklyn. Hope springs eternal, but of course, no hummingbirds found their way to our third floor apartment.

One of the first things she did when arrived here at Sunset Road was to mix up the medicine and hang the red feeder on a pitch pine right outside the kitchen door. Last night, she ran into the house, flushed with joy, because she seen a hummer at the feeder. Unfortunately, I didn't get outside fast enough to be able to add it to my backyard list.

Tonight, again she called me when I was out of sight of the feeder and again I missed the bird. So I sat down in one of our lime green plastic Adirondack chairs (on sale at Lowe's) and watched that feeder like it was the ninth inning of a close ballgame and soon enough a real beauty of a female hummer made her appearance and drank long and deeply of Shari's sugar water. Put it on the list.

Gonna like living here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Backyard Life Bird: Whip-poor-will

Tonight, twilight, sitting in our new backyard, I said to Shari,"I wonder if we get any nighthawks down here." I was hoping to see one fly overhead in the gloaming. I don't know that I'd even be able to identify one in the dim light--I've only been lucky enough to see a couple swooping by in daylight, which is very rare.

Nighthawks are in the nightjar family that also includes Whip-poor-wills. Sure enough, right before I went in the house I heard the unmistakable call of the Whip-poor-will. I called Shari, who had already gone into the house, but it stopped calling; it probably flew deeper into the WMA that borders our property. That made up for the hummingbird I missed that she saw at her feeder--she was so excited!

Now, we've heard whip-poor-wills before, in Arizona. What I didn't realize is that somewhere in the last few years WHIPs were split into two species. Thus, the WHIP in AZ was a Mexican Whip-poor-will. The one I heard tonight was an Eastern. So a lifer just dropped into my lap this evening. Next, I'd actually like to see one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Alternate Side of the Street Parking Suspended

8/15: Feast of the Assumption
9/21: Feast of the Hypothesis
10/2: Feast of the Wild Ass Guess

Friday, August 12, 2011

Great Kills Park / Mount Loretto 8/12

 Great Kills Mud Flats
We had to be on Staten Island today so we snuck in some birding after we ran our errand.

The mud flats at Great Kills always seem to have out-of-season ducks in the summer and are always reliable for one of our favorite herons, the Little Blue. Today didn't disappoint--there were 3 Greater Scaup, 2 hens and a drake, sitting on the beach. It was hard to figure what they were at first--we're not used to seeing them out of breeding plumage, but those blue bills and the facial pattern on the hens were pretty good clues. I'd seen reports of Great Scaups there in the last couple of weeks, so I guess these birds are here for the summer. There were also at least 2, possibly 3 (don't know if the flyover bird was one we'd already seen) Little Blue Herons out on the flats, along with Ruddy Turnstones, both semis, and Shari's faves, a couple of oystercatchers.
Great Kills Park
18 species
Mallard  22
Greater Scaup  3    Sitting on beach, non-breeding plumage.
Double-crested Cormorant  11
Great Egret  1
Snowy Egret  1
Little Blue Heron  2
Semipalmated Plover  6
American Oystercatcher  2
Ruddy Turnstone  3
Semipalmated Sandpiper  2
Laughing Gull  10
Herring Gull  20
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Common Tern  1
Bank Swallow  3
European Starling  25
Boat-tailed Grackle  2
American Goldfinch  2
After lunch we took a walk around the southern grasslands loop of Mount Loretto. Usually, I don't have the scope when I'm there and I was curious to see if I could pick out anything I wouldn't normally see on the ponds. Yes and no. We found a few birds far back in bushes or camouflaged in the trees, but nothing to get excited about. Highlights there were the couple of Green Herons on the ponds, a Spotted Sandpiper in alternate plumage bobbing along the edge of a pond, and 3 Wood Ducks in eclipse. Once again, the little invisible bugs were biting our ankles. Nothing like the blistering day I was there in July, but still pretty annoying. We tallied 30 species for the 2 locations, not bad for a hot summer mid-day birding expedition. 
Mount Loretto Unique Area
18 species (+1 other taxa)
Wood Duck  3
Mallard  4
Double-crested Cormorant  5
Great Egret  1
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Herring Gull  3
Great Black-backed Gull  1
Eastern Kingbird  5
Warbling Vireo  1
Barn Swallow  9
swallow sp.  2
American Robin  4
Gray Catbird 
Northern Mockingbird  1
Northern Cardinal  1
Blackbird  1
American Goldfinch  3

Monday, August 8, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Marine Park--Southwest 8/6: Another Wreck Added to the Collection

It was like birding a dumbbell today at the salt marsh: A lot of action when I first arrived at the Avenue U end, then  virtually nothing but robins along the stretch of trail that leads to the Gerritsen Beach end, where there was also a lot of satisfying activity. Repeat on the return trip except that by the time I arrived back at Avenue U there were no birds other than a huge flock of starlings.

The channel was being heavily used today by speedboats (illegally, natch) and I'd like to blame them for scaring away a lot of birds--though it seems that some birds like oystercatchers, gulls and the lone Great Egret I saw perched on a piling, are impervious to the disturbance of the motor craft and water skiers. Still, there weren't a lot of birds in the water waiting to get smashed.
30 species today--happy to see skimmers, oystercatchers, and plovers.
Mute Swan  2
Mallard  16
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  1
Semipalmated Plover  6
Killdeer  2
American Oystercatcher  5
Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs  1    
Semipalmated Sandpiper  2
Least Sandpiper  1
Laughing Gull  10
Ring-billed Gull  1
Herring Gull  25
Least Tern  1
Forster's Tern  2
Black Skimmer  3
Mourning Dove  10
American Crow  5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  11
American Robin  30
Gray Catbird  4
Northern Mockingbird  7
Brown Thrasher  2
European Starling  110
Yellow Warbler  1
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  3
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
House Sparrow  5

On the beach a new wreck has been added to the collection, hard up against the wreck that has been there for years and that now looks like its metal is crumbling into the ground--wouldn't want the spot to go unoccupied. Remember: This is a city park!  Hey Bloomberg, how about throwing the Parks Department a few bucks so they can tow this crap out of there--you know they're always whining about lack of funds. Pretend for a minute that it's Central Park. 

Glyphs from the indigenous people of the marsh
And just so that it is not forgotten:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nice Try

In the "Nice Try" Department we have this inspirational sign from a window of the Crossroads Seventh Day Church on West 45th between 9th & 10th Avenues. My mission is apparently to proofread the world.