Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday in the Park with Rob, {and George was there too.}

Brooklyn birding is quite different than birding in Queens. Truly an urban location, unlike Queens where a car is more de rigueur, a whole cadre of birders makes extensive use of all that Prospect Park has to offer; bird and otherwise.

But Brooklyn birding is different in other ways: for example when you hear an American Crow call out “cah cah”, much like a Bostonian, is it actually saying ‘car car’  - perhaps mocking the Brooklynites who for better or worse don't have cars.  It is rumored that the occasional Raven visitor even says "never more" in reference to the use of public transportation. Not sure if a tree grows in Brooklyn, but Green Birding sure does.

True, Prospect Park has so much to offer and with Brooklyn's proximity to Manhattan a car is often superfluous, the result is that it has taken the Brooklyn birder and made them into a special breed.

A semi-annual QCBC trip was held Sunday September 16th and CityBirder Rob Jett generously offered to lead the trip for us. We had quite the turnout. 21 people in fact! It began as a beautiful day; though we were waylaid by coin operated toilets!

Several participants of the female persuasion tried to avail themselves of the fancy coin operated ‘out-house’ but just about got trapped inside. While waiting we had the first good birds of the day, Chimney Swifts!

The park was hopping! Swainson's Thrushes were abundant in the undergrowth, and it was heartwarming to see the trees swarming with warblers and vireos. Entering the Rose Garden, we spied numerous birds in the surrounding trees such as Redstarts, Revios, Magnolia Warblers, Black & Whites.

Continuing onto the Vale of Cashmere, we also had a lot of  Parula and Chestnut-sided. Of course Rob was spotting Pairyuluz, which confused some of our participants. But as I explained, they pronounce things differently out west

We went to the Aralia Grove, and though it was past peak, we still had some nice sightings. On the way to the Ravine, I spotted an imm. BC Night Heron, but not much else in the duck-weed coated ponds. We were hoping to see Wood Duck and Blue-winged Teal, but the reports of their presence were not all they were quacked up to be.

Watch Hill and the butterfly garden was nice, with BG Gnatcatchers and Goldfinches. Of course one might have said that Red-breasted Nuthatches were the most desired bird of the day, but this was because they were all over the place and a few of our participants had a bit of difficulty getting on them. Fortunately, as stated they were abundant that day, and all over, so everyone got a look. Better late than never!

Taking the steep trail down the hill, we looked for and missed Purple Finch; that is until most of us were already down the hill. I ran back up, and was treated to two gorgeous males devouring the seed heads of Wild Lettuce. Sure, you call it a vile weed to be picked from your garden, but the birds were silent on the issue, perhaps because they don’t speak with their mouths full!

Rob ended his tour by taking us to the berm, where we hoped to get Olive sided Flycatcher. What we did get were killer views of a Bay-breasted Warbler replete with bay coloration, a trio of Palm Warblers, and quite the show from a Red-tailed hawk.

The hawk cued up in a pine in front of us, and totally ignoring the person walking down the path, flew right past him on the way to pounce on something in the grass. The passerby hardly seemed to notice, but we were all wowed. The Red-tailed missed though.

At this point the trip concluded. A few of us stopped for a snack at the Boathouse / Audubon Center. On the way down the narrow path we spied a Wilson’s {Orthodox} Warbler and watched as it made it’s way down the trail. With confusion over how much yarmulke the bird was sporting we discovered that there were actually two birds; an adult and a young bird with only partial black on the head.

Sitting by the waters side, a Kestrel flew by as we enjoyed our snacks. Sated, we headed towards our cars at the north end. Along the way we spotted much the same mix, and Jean and I decided to hang out a bit at the Vale of Cashmere.

We were joined again by Monica, and we had a nice bit of additional birds. Tennessee Warbler was my favorite. We also had a lot more Vireos; mostly Red-eyed but also a few Blue-headed and Warbling, and one Philadelphia.

The trees also sported a number of flycatchers. Some were those pesky Empids, and a few Pewees, but Jean picked out a Olive-sided as well. It had dark flanks, but was as flittery as warblers usually are, and while I saw the dark vest well, was hoping to see the white spots which I missed, not to mention having it sitting cued up at the top of a snag the way they usually do!

Beginning birder Lili wanted confirmation on the Olive-sided, and I hemmed and hawed a bit too much for her Jean later informed me. She asked because it would have been a lifer for her.  As no one had the most perfect look, I did not want to make that decision for her and told her as much. Sorry Lili. Yes It was a OSFL, but if it were me I would have termed it a BVD { better view desired} had I even decided to count it as a lifer for myself.

Getting hungry, we headed out of the park. It turned out that this Sunday was “Food Trucks at the Arch” and Jean and I decided to partake. It was a really pleasant ‘city’ experience, particularly the people watching. We later made one more foray into the park, but much of the birds were the same as seen earlier.

   Black-crowned Night-Heron
   Sharp-shinned Hawk
   American Kestrel
   Herring Gull
   Rock Dove
   Mourning Dove
   Chimney Swift
   Downy Woodpecker
   Northern Flicker
   Olive-sided Flycatcher
   Eastern Wood-Pewee
   Eastern Phoebe
   Great Crested Flycatcher
   Carolina Wren
   House Wren
   Gray Catbird
   Northern Mockingbird
   Swainson's Thrush
   Wood Thrush
   American Robin
   Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
   Black-capped Chickadee
   Red-breasted Nuthatch
   White-breasted Nuthatch
   Blue Jay
   American Crow
   European Starling
   Blue-headed Vireo
   Warbling Vireo
   Philadelphia Vireo
   Red-eyed Vireo
   Tennessee Warbler
   Northern Parula
   Chestnut-sided Warbler
   Magnolia Warbler
   Black-throated Blue Warbler
   Black-throated Green Warbler
   Blackburnian Warbler
   Pine Warbler
   Palm Warbler
   Bay-breasted Warbler
   Blackpoll Warbler
   Black-and-white Warbler
   American Redstart
   Northern Waterthrush
   Common Yellowthroat
   Wilson's Warbler
   Scarlet Tanager
   Northern Cardinal
   Rose-breasted Grosbeak
   Purple Finch
   American Goldfinch
   House Sparrow

Friday, September 14, 2012

If its Thursday, I Must be Birding #4

After a whole slew of more responsibilities than time could accommodate, the dust has been starting to clear. With reports of some great birds in New Jersey, and a conveniently placed Thursday, I tried in vain to assemble a posse. Gosh darn work and doctor's appointments...

Almost as good as a co-conspiritor, Donna Schulman provided me with information and updates both before and during the day. Most important, one of her contacts confirmed that the Tern had been seen...

Setting off bright and early at 5 am, I made my way to my first target: a Crested Caracara that had been haunting a farm field in Windsor, Mercer County. Normally found in Texas or Florida, a few have been wandering lately. The current thinking is that this is a 'countable' bird, not and escapee or other undesirable.

The only nice thing to be said for leaving so early, is missing all the %#@^!^) traffic. Which is not to say that I missed it all, but satisfyingly less people who were not quite sure where they were going.

see map: 

Arriving on location, I spied two other birders set up just across from the dirt road into the abandoned farm, neither of whom had their glasses up. 1st bad sign. Upon joining them, one birder, a local, said that he had seen the bird at 6:30 am, but that it took off too parts unknown shortly thereafter. The other birder was from Bucks County PA, and he was here having missed it a few times already...

So we scanned the fields for some time and chatted hoping that the bird would fly back in, sooner than on other days, which was in the evening.  As time passed, more birders arrived. Amongst them were two college students from Princeton, who said their professor had told them about the bird.

More time passed, more birders arrived. Looking at 'Loretta' I was able to see that there was other favorable habitat not too distant as the Caracara flies. Some folks walked south towards the Beth Chaim Synogogue, while I exchanged cell #'s with others. The bird had also been seen on nearby Old Trenton Road, and it was worth a shot, as was Mercer County Park which was in the direction the first birder had said the bird flew off in.

Before I left, the two college students came back, asking for scopes as they had a candidate on a chimney a ways away, but could not resolve it through their glasses. A group of us walked back with them, set up scopes, only to find that the bird in question was an Americrow. The student looked at us sheepishly for his well intensioned but ultimately hope-dashing effort. So I smirked as I inquired: "That Princeton, is it one of those Ivy-league schools..."

Exchanging phone numbers with Fred, I was going to try some other places and was about to leave when with ultimate redemption, the same young fellow saw a bird off in the distance that this time ~was~ the Caracara! Amusingly, had we stayed where we were we would have had it right in front of us, so we all walked all the way back to where we started from. Timing is everything!  Of course, this was another example of one of the "Universal Birding Laws": The Coast Is Clear Law.

As is distance and sun position. No one wanted to enter the presumed private property, nor worse, scare off the bird,  so we photographed from Village Road East. Nice! But the photos were distant and poorly lit. Oh well, I am happy just to have seen the bird.

Crested Caracara on a stick
As the crowd contemplated what to do next, having succeeded in getting this highly prized target, I mentioned the Elegant Tern of Sandy Hook. Sandra Keller, having not seen that bird decided to meet me there and take me up on my offer to share my telescope.

Loretta guided me via route this and route that while Sandra took the highways, and longer trip. We met up within a few minutes of each other, I having just started down the trail to the beach. While walking I was treated to Field Sparrow and Magnolia Warbler, and a Commonthroat that I tried to bend into a Connecticut Warbler but could not.

Sandra caught up to me as I approached the beach, and togeteher we slowly approached the group of resting Common Terns, Sanderlings, and Skimmers resting by a 'tidal cut'. This was an area where water was slowly flowing out of the high tide's flooding of a low area in the dunes. Fortunately, it was mere inches deep; but at high tide may have to be waded across. This spot is the western of the 2 sighting markers.

see Sam Galick's map:

We scanned the birds to no avail. Shortly, two fisherman approached from the other side and as anticipated they put the birds up. They were helpful though, telling us where they had heard that the bird was most frequently. Encouraged, we walked on.

We picked up a few Black-bellied Plovers on the way, and also crossed paths with two other birders who had not had any luck.  The four of us walked down the beach, and I picked out a juvenile Bonaparts Gull with the Juvenile Laughing Gulls. But no Tern. That is no Elegant Tern, but we did manage to find a few imm. Black Terns.

Walking further on we made our way to the eastern of the 2 sighting markers, where we watched Bluefish in a feeding frenzy no more than 25' from shore, as well as Gulls and Terns taking advantage of all the concentrated bait fish. What a sight!

We decided to head back after a time, and found the two other birders checking the birds at the 'first' spot. No luck. There was one odd bird there though, a young Common Tern I had initially mistaken for a Black Tern, but was in fact coated with Ulva - Sea Lettuce. After getting a look in my book at what the target bird was supposed to look like, the two of them departed.

Unfortunately for them, shortly after their departure I picked the bird out of the crowd eliciting an exhuberant if not a wee bit embarrasing exclaimation from Sandra. I told her it was a perfectly okay response after having had an eyegasm.

Feeling a tad guilty that the others had just missed the bird, I informed Sandra that this was an example of another of the "Universal Birding Laws": The Sacrificial Lamb Law. We owe them a jar of mint jelly.

We enjoyed the bird as it hung out on the shore near the rest of the mixed flock, and watched as it caught small fish. What a great day of birding.

Elegant Tern with snack