Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gray-headed/hooded Gull

(Gray-hooded in AOU area - they just have to be different; Gray-headed everywhere else).

A bird originally identified as a Black-headed Gull had its ID corrected on Thursday from something semi-rare to something exceptional. Two birders had spotted a Gray-hooded Gull on the Coney Island beach on 7/24, and thank God they took a photo of it.

As you might expect with a rare bird that's been seen precisely once in the USA over a decade ago, some civilized panic occurred. Not seen Friday morning but seen Friday afternoon, seen off and on during Saturday, I finally decided to go look for it late morning on Sunday. Since I started out first at Negri-Nepote (Blue Grosbeak, Grasshopper Sparrow etc) I accelerated arrival time to mid morning since it had already been seen.

I actually saw it while walking toward the group of birders on the boardwalk because it has a very distinctive flight pattern with large white mirrors above the black primary tips. On the ground it was a little less obvious with the gray hood and black collar less pronounced than some photos of birds in fresh alternate. Overall plumage condition is a little worn but consistent with an adult in late alternate with year-old primaries and retrices. It's pretty tame but no tamer than the Laughing Gulls it's taking its cues from. It's a little smaller than a Laughing Gull but not by much.

I'm still not sure this qualifies as a countable species - while I don't see any captive origin issues for the bird and there's no particular reason to believe ship-assistance it's still a quite remarkable record well out-of-range.

A picture from August 2nd, when I made a second trip to see this bird:

See also: New York Times article.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


On a marginally more palatable day I went walking in the early morning at Negri-Nepote Grasslands in Franklin Twp NJ. This place was full of passerines with a good number of juveniles. I saw more Grasshopper Sparrow juveniles than anything else, which is really good news for this very uncommon species in NJ. One or two adult males were still singing, and I saw one adult carrying food.

One species conspicuously absent were Dickcissel - they haven't been seen here in a few weeks.

Other sparrows at Negri-Nepote included Chipping, Field (+juv), Song (+juv), a singing male Blue Grosbeak (not seen) and there were also American Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings and fly-over House Finch. I also saw multiple House Wrens (one using a Tree Swallow box), a Prairie Warbler, a few Orchard Orioles, Cliff/Barn/Tree Swallow, three eclipse plumage Wood Ducks on the pond that is drying up. Also of interest there were a flock of 10+ Bobolinks - although this is a grassland they don't breed here for reasons that must be to do with the habitat mix, but Bobolinks breed early and migrate early. These birds were southbound migrants including molting adult males.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Brig 7/23

Short birding trip (truncated by heat and Tour de France coverage). I went zero for everything on the rarity front at Brig despite checking Glossy Ibis facial skin color (for White-faced) and there being feeding frenzies at very low tide at a few of the sluices (Forster's Tern, Laughing Gull, Double-crested Cormorant).

Shorebird numbers were up, mainly Semipalmated Sandpiper (abundant, thousands) and Short-billed Dowitcher. My best birds were Whimbrel and Pectoral Sandpiper, both year birds, before heading for cover and air-conditioning.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Brigantine NWR

A warm Sunday visit to Brigantine, although I actually started off at Great Bay Blvd in Tuckerton, just to the north. Along Great Bay there were multiple singing Seaside Sparrows but I was unable to come up with Saltmarsh (Sharp-tailed) Sparrow. Also there: Boat-tailed Grackle, Laughing Gull, distant Forster's Terns, inevitable Red-winged Blackbirds, sizable flocks of Tree Swallow on the wires, and I heard a couple of Clapper Rails. A couple of Least-ish Sandpipers flew over the road, a reminder that fall shorebird migration had already started.

Then to Brigantine where the Purple Martin colony was in full swing. The tide appeared to be high but on the way down. Activity at Brig wasn't all that impressive, especially on the shorebird front: Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper. OK, the Stilt was certainly a decent find, and was an adult in fading alternate plumage. At this time of year pretty much all of the birds are adult in faded alternate plumage since it's too early for juveniles to be in a condition to migrate south. Terns included the inevitable large numbers of Forster's which nest out in the saltmarsh and are just starting to show signs of molt in a few cases (into basic plumage). At the south-eastern sluice there was a single Common Tern (semi-reliable here) and a few Gull-billed Terns were dotted around the place. Canada Geese appeared to be at an all-time low for a summer in which I'd normally expect to find lots of juveniles along the drive. There were several Osprey nests with young but the really photographically convenient nest from last year was inactive - I thought that one was a little too close to the wildlife drive and is inactive in most years. I didn't find Saltmarsh at Brig either, but Seaside Sparrow, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Indigo Bunting and Blue Grosbeak were present. The male Blue Grosbeak was singing and was my first one for the year - not at all common this far north. A fairly typical results for Brigantine but nothing at all compelling.

(Update: 7/17 there were pretty much the same species but also Least Tern family group with juveniles).

Hooded Crow, Staten Island

This bird is an Old World species of crow, the Hooded Crow, at Crooke's Point of Great Kills Park (part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, just as Jamaica Bay WR is). Back when I still lived in Britain it was a subspecies of the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) but subsequently was elevated to full species status as C. cornix. Hooded Crow is somewhat of a predator, and the local several pairs of Northern Mockingbirds instinctively know this - they're mobbing the crow quite hard whenever it pops into the parking lot, and often on the beach too. So although the above photo looks like they're companions, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a pretty significant vagrant, or at least would be if they had much of a migratory habit - Hooded Crows show shorter range migration in winter as a reaction to hard weather (rather like Blue Jays) but like all the crows that I'm familiar with are mostly sedentary. Given the location it's rather tempting to think this was a ship-assisted bird. It could also be an escapee, but there's no obvious feather wear from a cage and the bird is fairly wary. Strongly suggestive of wild origin but I doubt it flew trans-Atlantic under its own power.

Also at Great Kills: Brown-headed Cowbirds incl juveniles (why can't the Mockingbirds harass these ?); Yellow Warbler; Willow Flycatcher; Gray Catbird; Common Tern; Osprey; the usual suspect on the Gull front.

Update: the Hooded Crow moved off Staten Island not long after I saw it, but was found again hanging out on Long Beach Island in New Jersey (this is south of Barnegat Light, so it's traveled a fair distance). As of August 5th it's still present.