Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend birding

Thursday: a nice little foray into Staten Island netted Eurasian Wigeon at Tottenville Train Station - this bird had been reported last year and is likely the same individual that sometimes was seen at Perth Amboy waterfront last winter.  This time I was far luckier than my Perth Amboy forays and actually saw it in a small flock of American Wigeons.  Then the maint target for the day: Cave Swallows at Cemetery of the Resurrection adjacent to Mount Loretto.  This flock had been upwards of 60 birds a week earlier but between 8 and 20 still persisted when I was there, visiting the pond to hawk insects.  The number is ambiguous because I wasn't sure if I saw the same flock 3x or three different flocks.  A single Tree Swallow was present and also fly-by Pine Siskin and Purple Finch.  Then back into NJ with a visit to Roselle where finding the Greater White-fronted Goose and Cackling Geese wasn't especially hard at Warinanco Park.

Friday: back into NYC in Central Park, where there was no Brant on the Reservoir, no Rufous Hummingbird at the Conservatory Garden, a single Barred Owl in the usual location and a few Fox Sparrows in the Ramble but not a great deal else.  Noteworthy was so many Tufted Titmice it almost constituted a plague.

Saturday: despite strong winds following the passage of a cold front I went out to Barnegat Inlet hoping for a little coastal finch movement - to no avail.  However in challenging conditions I found a late Brown Pelican flying up the inlet, a Royal Tern amongst the Forster's Terns and a larger Bonaparte's Gull flock, and the usual Harlequins.  The rest of the sea duck count was very low, with only two Long-tailed Ducks and 20 Black Scoters.  Down at Brigantine div. of Forsythe NWR where the violence that Hurricane Sandy had done to the wildlife drive (closed even to walking) was quite evident, I did snag a Cave Swallow over the open section of drive toward the gull tower.  Otherwise things were quite distant (abundant waterfowl) or keeping their head down in the strong wind.

Sunday: failing yet again to find Crossbills in NYC - this time in Prospect Park - I did manage to find a single Rusty Blackbird, and a couple of Pine Siskins at the Breeze Hill feeders.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Inwood and Central Parks, Nov 17th: Barred/Bluebird/Brant but no Barnacle

The possibility of a Barnacle Goose lured me all the way up to the tip of Manhattan and Inwood Hill Park early on Saturday.  The Barnacle was nowhere to be found, although I checked all the grassy areas.  A consolation prize - and apparently my first ones for Manhattan - were a flock of 10 American Pipits on the eastern ball fields.

The rest of the day turned out rather more successfully, and by the time I limped off to the train I'd covered a few miles and added three Central Park birds to my list, which now numbers 199.  A little walk across the north end of the park brought me to the Conservatory Garden where the northern (circular) flower garden is an absolute riot of color.  It's understandably lured in a Rufous Hummingbird  that's been there for about a week - I got enough poor tail-spread photographs to be sure it was a female Rufous and not any other Selasphorus, and the incomplete emergent gorget spot suggests it's an immature although I'm not totally certain on age.  This is not the first hummingbird seen in this location - there was an Allen's in 2002, and it's not the first Rufous I've seen in the park since there was an adult female Rufous in 2004.  As long as those flowers keep going and there's not a hard frost the hummingbird should do well for some time at this location.  (Update: it was gone by the following Friday).  I spent some time at this very colorful and warm location and also noted two Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker but not a great deal else - although there were crossbills reported from more coastal locations there did not seem to be a flight over the park.

I met Junko at the hummingbird who told me about a Brant at the Reservoir.  I managed to miss this on the way down the park the first time but looped back up there on my way out of the park and got good looks at an immature Brant hanging out with Canada Geese.  Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead and Ruddy Ducks were some of the more interesting waterfowl on the Reservoir, mostly clustered at the north end.

The I headed down to what has become a reliable spot for Barred Owl.  Barred Owl would normally be exceptionally rare in the park but there was one on the western edge of the park last winter (also roamed the Upper West Side, apparently) and this winter there may be as many as three Barred Owls here.  Despite once being a pretty regular Long-eared Owl roosting spot, Central Park hasn't hosted any regularly roosting owls in years.  Thankfully (and rather unlike the Long-eared) the Barred Owl roost is a long way off the ground, immune to curious onlookers.  A lot of passer's by were curious about this owl, so my skyward-pointed camera turned out to be mostly used a spotting scope.  I've accumulated a pretty good list of owls seen in the park (Long-eared, Northern Saw-whet, Great Horned, Barn, Barred, Boreal) but this was one of the better ones and one that I never expected to see here.

Finally, I was alerted to an Eastern Bluebird feeding at Sparrow Rock.  This bird seemed pretty tame for a Bluebird, considering a small crowd of birders gathered to admire it, and was in immature male plumage - still pretty resplendent in deep sky blue and red but with a little brown shading to the blue color on the scapulars and nape and pointed retrices.  Also there was a Hermit Thrush, which the Bluebird seemed to be using at times to detect insects and then attempted to steal them from it.  The Bluebird seemed to be doing fairly well on insect hunting, and the continuing fairly sunny and milder conditions (high in the 50's) suggest that all the park rarities should do fine for at least the next week.

Wood Duck                            
Northern Shoveler                    
Hooded Merganser                      
Ruddy Duck                            
Pied-billed Grebe                                                
Barred Owl
Rufous Hummingbird
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker              
American Kestrel                      
White-breasted Nuthatch              
Carolina Wren                        
Ruby-crowned Kinglet                  
Eastern Bluebird                        
Hermit Thrush                        

Update: the Barnacle Goose seems to be more reliably seen at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, which is geographically close to Inwood.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Northern LapwingS

Northern Lapwings at a distance - record shot only
An unprecedented fall-out of Northern Lapwings has occurred in the north-east with between 5 and 11 individuals being spotted - it depends on your philosophy about how related individual sightings are, and my own suspicion is that there have to be more than this since Lapwings are fond of farm fields where they are not always obvious to birders passing by.   The current sightings are summarized in this piece on the ABA blog.  The nearest Lapwing population is Iceland, and I assume they head south-east in fall to Britain for winter.  Most European Lapwings head south-west in response to harsh weather.

I birded Central Park on Sunday morning (Nov 11th) and drove into NYC with the strategy that if the Lapwings were re-found I'd head out to Montauk.  Central Park had a modest finch flight, so I had Pine Siskins and Purple Finches but alas not the elusive White-winged Crossbills or Evening Grosbeaks.  More conventional early winter species like Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-crowned Sparrow and quite a few Hermit Thrushes were around.  Much of the Ramble was closed off for post-storm tree clean-up (both Sandy and the following week's Nor'easter had an impact on the park).

Then I saw an email reporting the Lapwings and I was back in the car by 10am.

The Midtown Tunnel had  re-opened just the previous Friday after being flooded by Sandy so after leaving Manhattan the first part of the trip was speedy (L.I.E., Rt. 27/Sunrise Highway).  But the problem with Montauk - and the reason I rarely go there any more - is that the next 35 miles are a tortuous wind through Southampton, Bridgehampton, Easthampton, Amagansett and other picturesque towns with very low speed limits.  There's a couple of fantasy 55mph zones near Montauk but most of the time you're closer to 35mph, which is about half the speed you were doing to for the last hour+.

Nevertheless, I made it out the east side of Montauk and to Deep Hollow Ranch (aka Theodore Roosevelt County Park) and found the Northern Lapwings without a problem.  This location is where I saw both Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese in 2007. Here's where it got both surreal and mundane.  I've seen thousands of Lapwings in Britain where they are relatively common on arable land, but it was a species I'd never really anticipated seeing in the United States, much less two of them hanging out together.  I had spent the preceding morning (Saturday) looking for the Lapwing that had been reported near Allentown NJ on Thursday with no success.  Lapwings look quite exotic to American birders, with the irridescence, crest and face pattern, but less so to Brits like me.  However Lapwings as a family are often quite spectacular in plumage.

Much of the time these Lapwings were distant and somewhat wary, being flushed by a passing Red-tailed Hawk (which looks pretty similar to the Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo if you're a prey species) or people on horseback.  So I did see them in flight and their relaxed flight style on broad wings belies the fact that these birds are long-distance migrants in Europe.  Which explains how they made it this far in the first place - something like a Greenfinch would splash down in the Atlantic from exhaustion.

The ABA blog for Hurricane Sandy also speculates that this amazing Lapwing event is correlated with a high pressure system that was present over the north Atlantic Ocean.  It's stretching the correlation to beyond breaking point to suggest that the Lapwings were related to Hurricane Sandy - but if their simulations are right one of the weather systems that led Sandy to turn westward and make landfall in NJ are the same weather systems that made quite a few Lapwings make landfall in the USA.  It just wasn't Sandy that did it.

Update: as of December 8th the one Lapwing on mainland MA and the two on Nantucket Island are still present, the two Montauk birds have long since left, and there was a fleeting report of one in Virginia.  Likely all of them are still on the east coast, but there's a lot of farm land out there.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Post-storm Birds (NJ)

After getting hammered by wind all night and losing power (still out 2.5 days later; was out for 5 days) I went out around 10am to slowly wind my way to local water spots in search of hurricane-displaced birds.  I found a little, but nothing tremendously interesting - most of the action was in New York Harbor or down on the Delaware, out of the range of any sane driving the morning after that hurricane.  Lots of power poles split or downed and multiple downed trees with the inevitable widespread power outages. Mercer Meadows - Rosedale Park lake: 2 Forster's Terns; 2 Ospreys; 1 Bald Eagle; flock of Tree Swallows; 1 Cave/Cliff Swallow - appeared quite dark on forehead and throat but also wet so ID inconclusive but likely a Cave - seemed to be passing through Mercer County Park lake: 3 Common Loons (1 adult and 2 immatures) plus one fly-over 1 Forster's Tern; 2 female Surf Scoters; 3 Bald Eagles (2 adults and 1 immature).    This amounted to a few extra birds on my Mercer County list but not much else.