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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Croton Cackler

Yesterday afternoon (2/27) I stumbled across a Cackling Goose at Croton Point in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. While this species is more regular in New York State to the southeast of Croton (i.e., Long Island), this is a fairly good record for Westchester County–there are no prior county records on eBird, and, as far as I can tell, only two previous official county records (both from 2007).

Cackling Goose (center) with Canada Geese. A much smaller bird overall, with a stubby beak, shorter neck, and lighter back coloration (hard to see in this photo).

I watched the bird from the south side of Croton Point Park, as it slowly swam west in Croton Bay with a group of seven Canadas. Hopefully, it reappears!

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A Three-Day Weekend

Thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I had no school yesterday (actually, I have no school today too because of the “snow”, so I guess that makes it a four-day weekend), and, of course, what better thing to do during long weekends than go birding?

On Saturday I went out to Montauk Point with a few friends, and despite the relative lack of activity out there, I thought we saw some great stuff. We had close views of many Razorbills sitting on the water at the point, plus 40 thousand scoters of all three species. At Camp Hero, we heard a probable White-winged Crossbill flyover, though we unfortunately couldn’t get eyes on it. At Culloden Point, on the west side of the Lake Montauk inlet, we found a second-cycle Iceland Gull, and at Lazy Point in Napeague, I spotted a young Northern Shrike perched on top of a nearby telephone pole–so I’m not complaining.

A poorly phonescoped image of the Iceland Gull.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike in flight

On Sunday, I couldn’t get out for some really intensive birding, but I did manage to pick up a new bird for my county–Northern Pintail–thanks to eBird!

Northern Pintail--so close, I couldn't fit its tail into the frame!

Then, on Monday, I took a trip down to Veterans Memorial Pier in Brooklyn to try and locate two Black-headed Gulls that have been there for weeks. We arrived relatively early (~8 AM), but there were only a few gulls actually roosting on the pier, and none were the ones we were after. However, there were hundreds of gulls in the water, so we commenced sifting through them, with a very cold wind buffeting us from, it seemed, all angles.

Adult nonbreeding Bonaparte's Gull

There were several Bonaparte’s Gulls around (like the one above), which look similar to Black-headed, but with some key differences. So when Jacob spotted a young Bonaparte’s with an orange-colored bill…it wasn’t a Bonaparte’s! This first-cycle Black-headed Gull gave incredibly close looks.

The Black-headed Gull showing its thicker orangeish-colored bill with a black tip--a key difference from Bonaparte's (above). This individual also has more extensive dark markings on its head than a typical Bonaparte's.

In flight, notice the prominent white wedge in the outer primaries (a FIRST-CYCLE Bonaparte's would show a lot more dark there).


Another view of the Black-headed Gull

There were also a few Purple Sandpipers scattered along the rocks. We took a couple breaks from watching the gulls to snap some photos. They were, interestingly enough, not very skittish.

Purple Sandpiper munching on some plant matter


Purple Sandpiper


Purple Sandpiper

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Apparently these Black-bellied Plovers and Red Knots can't read.

It’s 3:30 AM on January 1st, 2011, and my alarm clock is beeping. Two hours of sleep, not bad, considering the date. Time to finally start off the year right!

Fast forward an hour. I, with a few other intrepid birders, are on the way to the barrier beaches on the south shore of Long Island for the Southern Nassau County Christmas Bird Count.

5:32 AM. Our first stop is on the side of the parkway, with no other noises save for the sound of a jet overhead and the roar of the pounding surf not far away. We are looking for Barn Owls, which would be a good species for the count. The recording plays the unearthly screeching hiss of a barn owl…

Not far away, the answer comes, “CKSHHHHH!”.

My first bird of the year, a Barn Owl! Not bad…

We continue the rounds, finding no other Barn Owls on our pre-dawn circuit. An American Woodcock in the headlights makes for a great second bird, however.

It's dawn, and you know what that means: a seawatch from Jones Beach!

As the sun begins to rise, we head to the beaches. In the parking lot, five Common Redpolls fly over the car. Snow Buntings rattle as they whirl over the beach. There are all three scoters on the water, plus Common Eiders, Bonaparte’s Gulls and thousands of passing Dunlin.

On the way back to the car, these two Peregrines put on a show.

Some aspects of the birding are disappointing: as hard as we look, no Northern Gannets are to be seen from the beach. But other parts are great. American Bittern and Red-shouldered Hawk are great birds for January 1st, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Fox Sparrow, a Gray Catbird and a Swamp Sparrow aren’t bad for the side of the highway…

We saw 47 American Pipits during the count, including this one (from a flock of 20).


Northern Harrier

As the day progresses, we tick off most of the common species (one surprising miss is American Goldfinch!). A final search for Short-eared Owls as the sun sets proves fruitless, but it doesn’t dampen the mood–a great first day of the year!

A close Horned Grebe at Pt. Lookout, while we were looking at some Harlequin Ducks.

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Depending on your location in New York, upstate and downstate have very different meanings. For those in Albany, the Adirondacks might be upstate while Westchester downstate, though for those on Long Island, Westchester might be upstate (and I guess there’s no downstate). Well, on Sunday, I went “upstate,” if you could even call it that, to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, and to a lesser extent, Croton Point Park, with some hawk watchers from Quaker Ridge. The weather was excellent — a high of 45F was predicted for the day, a nice change from previous weeks in the 20s and 30s.

At Croton we hoped to find some waterfowl, eagles, and maybe even some uncommon birds that had been reported hanging around. Strangely, there was next to no waterfowl at the Croton Train Station, usually filled with ducks. All we saw were some Bufflehead and Mute Swans. We were treated to excellent looks at an adult Bald Eagle perched on a stick poking out from the riverbed on the opposite side of the train tracks.

We had better luck once actually in the park. There had been a Red-headed Woodpecker reported nearby one of the parking lots, so we headed there first. After spreading out and combing the area for perhaps 15 minutes, we headed back to the car, disappointed. Just as we were about to pile in, Mike exclaimed that he had the bird! Sure enough, there it was in a tree not 50 feet away. We spent the next several minutes following the Red-headed Woodpecker from tree-to-tree, shutters clicking.

The best shot I got of the Red-headed Woodpecker. It took a bit of patience before it flew out into some good light.

After the woodpecker, we drove up to a lot on top of the capped landfill-turned grassland. We couldn’t find any evidence of owls in the pines surrounding the lot, and we began to walk down the road toward the water. After a minute or two we encountered a small band of passerines. White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, all the usuals…but wait — a flash of yellow here…and out emerged an Orange-crowned Warbler! There had been sporadic reports of one from that general area throughout the winter, but this particularly hardy individual hadn’t been seen for at least a month (at least by birders who post to the NYS Listserv). The day was turning out to be pretty good, but the best was still yet to come.

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This past Sunday the NYS Young Birders Club had the opportunity to take part in a fantastic exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the ornithology department at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. We all had a great time learning about the history of the collection (over 1 million specimens!), the methods used by staff to collect and prepare specimens, and of course, seeing all the birds! Though, sadly, they were all dead… 😉

I took tons of pictures, so this post will be mostly pictures with bits of text.

We all arrived at the “security entrance” before the museum even opened, which felt kinda cool to begin with. Scott Haber and Peter Capainolo, our two leaders, took us up to the 6th floor (I think) via an old, large elevator that everyone just managed to squeeze into. We were ushered into a conference room and were amazed to find the table covered with bird specimens. There were all kinds of birds layed out, from Black Vultures to Birds-of-Paradise to an albino cormorant to extinct Hawaiian birds to everything in between. We spent at least an hour listening to Scott and Peter talk about every species on the table, and it wasn’t boring in the least.

The group assembled around the conference room table filled with cool specimens.

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Owl Prowl

This morning I went on Saw Mill River Audubon‘s Owl Prowl. We met Trudy Battaly and Drew Panko, owl researchers, at Pelham Bay Park. They are conducting research on Saw-whet Owl biology, and as a part of that they outfit owls with 1.8-gram radio transmitters. We were lucky enough to be able to use Drew and Trudy’s telemetry antennas to track down a few individuals.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small member of the group of North American owls, and it is a species that nests in Canada and some of the northern lower 48, as well as at higher altitudes in some Western states, and moves south during the winter. Our first Saw-whet had been found by Drew and Trudy before we even arrived, and it was almost too easy, perched towards the top of a nearby shrub.

Our first Saw-whet.

Another view.

We then piled into the cars and headed to our next owl location, a couple minutes down the road. As soon as the antennas were switched on we started receiving a signal from the owl’s transmitter, albeit a faint one. Following the signal, we entered a pine grove. I was able to operate one of the antennas, but after a while wasn’t getting very far. Of course, it turns out I was way off, and after Trudy took over we headed out of the grove. My toes were numb, but I pressed on, (more…)

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On Saturday (1/30), Hope, Scott, Greg, and I participated in the Superbowl of Birding, a 12-hour birding event in NE Massachusetts and SE New Hampshire. We, the NYSYBC Ninja Nighthawks, decided to only bird Essex County, MA. I wish I could give a detailed description of everything we saw and every place we went, but during a Big Day everything kind of blurs together…so here are the highlights.

Planning the route

We woke up at 3 am on Saturday morning, got ready, and left for our owling spots (~1 hour away) at around 3:45. Boy, was it cold. 5 degrees on the car thermometer, and, according to weather.com, -14 F with wind chill factored in.

Whether it was the cold, the wind, the full moon, or just our bad luck, we didn’t find any owls before sunrise. Our first birds in the low dawn light were Mallards, Black Ducks, Crows, Robins, Hooded Mergansers, and an American Coot that we had been tipped off on. It was a four-point bird (during the superbowl, each species has a point value depending on how rare it is — the higher the better, with the max being five points), and we felt better after finally seeing some actual birds.

Check out the temperature all the way on the left, and the time on the right...

Next was a stop along the water, where we found Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, and Song Sparrow. In some nearby thickets there were American Tree Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird, American Goldfinch, and other common songbirds. After some brief stops, we headed to the Gloucester/Cape Ann area.

A stop at a fishing pier got us Peregrine Falcon, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders, and Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. A drive along the coast, stopping at different areas, yielded many more species, such as Gray Catbird, Wild Turkey, Gadwall and all three Scotors. We stopped at the Elk Club, where a King Eider had been reported, but we could not find it. We did, however, see a Black Guillemot, a lifer for me. Unfortunately it was just a brief look.

A Bald Eagle, probably close to a third-year bird.

Continuing on our way, we picked up Purple Sandpiper and Harlequin Duck. We stopped at Andrew’s Point on Cape Ann, which was dubbed “HELL” by Hope and Greg, who scouted there the day before in brutal gusting winds. It was surprisingly pleasant, though, and we commenced scanning the waters. After a couple minutes, Greg said he had found an alcid (a group of much sought-after seabirds that are normally far out at sea). My first impression was that the bird was lying down on the water — it had basically no neck. The bird had a dark cap, a white throat, a grayish back, and a light patch behind the eye. We decided that Dovekie was the only possible choice. All of us were very excited — it was not on the Superbowl checklist, meaning it was a five-point bird, and we could get an extra three points if we were the first team to call it in. While Greg called the bird in to Joppa Flats (the organization running the Superbowl) HQ, other birders arrived. The Dovekie picked that time to disappear, and we frustratingly couldn’t get anyone else on the bird. Time was ticking, and we left the group. Later we would find out that another team had seen the Dovekie from the same spot.

My field sketch of the Dovekie. Not very good at drawing birds...and sorry about the bad handwriting -- it was done while we were in the car.

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