Sunday, August 31, 2014

East Pond - 31 Aug

An early start at the East Pond looking to catch up with some more of the shorebirds that migrate through this area. I once again started from the southern end, and slogged my way through sticky mud for several hours, loaded down with scope, camera and bins. Marvelous. I haven't had this much fun in ages! The birds were brilliant, with my first Western Sandpipers almost the first birds I saw. I eventually counted 5, but I'm sure there were many more than that. I also got great views of some very close Stilt Sandpipers (at least 8 present), as well as a couple of Hudsonian Godwits that had been seen earlier in the week. Also present were about 347 Semi-palmated Sandpiper, 90+ Least Sandpiper, 40+ Semi-palmated Plover, 255 Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, 24 White-rumped Sandpiper, 185 Short-billed Dowitcher, 5 Lesser Yellowlegs, and singles of Spotted Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin and Red Knot.

Western Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lake George area, 17th - 24th August

A family holiday spent at a resort on Lake George on the edge of the Adirondacks. This area is famous as the closest site to find many of the Boreal species, however they are a bit ambitious for a family holiday, so this was more of a recce for future birding trips.

I got out most mornings, and spent my time in the woods on the hills to the west of Lake George. Warblers were my main focus, and I found a reasonable selection. The commonest species were Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Black-and-White Warbler. There were smaller numbers of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler and Ovenbird. Other species were also present, every bird party had a healthy population of Black-capped Chickadee, and most had at least one Brown Creeper. Both Red-breasted Nuthatch and White-breasted Nuthatch were encountered regularly, the latter being more common. Tufted Titmouse were also common. The tapping of woodpeckers is heard everywhere here, with Hairy Woodpecker and Downy Woodpecker being equally common. Less common, but encountered daily were Pileated Woodpecker, a fantastic bird. Other birds included Broad-winged Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Ruffed Grouse, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee and Scarlet Tanager

The area has many lakes, waterbirds included Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Common Loons and many Ring-billed Gulls.

Female Chestnut-sided Warbler. An absolutely cracking little bird, the chestnut sides are a little tricky to see in this photo...

...but are more obvious in other pictures...
Female Magnolia Warbler. One of the commoner species in the flocks of warblers in the Lake George area.
Female Black-throated Green Warbler. Another common warbler in the forests here.
Female Black-and-White Warbler. One or two birds in almost every warbler flock. Very nuthatch-like behaviour.
Male Blackburnian Warbler. I wish this was a better photograph of one of the most gorgeous birds I've seen since I got to north America.
Ovenbird. Quite a little stunner, but hard to pin down long enough for a picture.

Female Common Yellowthroat. Found low down in denser vegetation, especially near water.

...juvenile Common Yellowthroats can look quite odd!

Red-eyed Vireo. Quite a large flock feeding on a fruiting bush.
Blue-headed Vireo. Common in mixed flocks.
Non-breeding male Scarlet Tanager.

Juvenile Hermit Thrush.
Adult Hermit Thrush.
Eastern Wood Pewee.

Male Pileated Woodpecker. Encountered on several occasions in the woods above Lake George. A truly spectacular bird.
Male Downy Woodpecker.

White-breasted Nuthatch.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Cooper's Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk.

Red-spotted Newt (Red Eft), Notophthalmus viridescens. Very common in the leaf-litter.

Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus. Strange name for such a beautiful snake, not horrid at all! Found it crossing the road as we headed back from a hike. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Freeport Pelagic - 12th Aug 2014

Pelagics are run by See Life Paulagics out of several NE ports every year, including 2 from New York. The aim is to get into the deeper water offshore to look for some of the gulf stream specials. The trip set off on Monday evening and sailed all night in order to be in the right area at dawn to increase the chances of Storm-Petrels.

Birding started before 5:00am with torches and chum, and continued until we docked at 6:00pm. The commonest seabird by far was Wilson's Storm-Petrel (300-400) which came in quickly to the chumming. Scattered in amongst them were Leach's Storm-Petrel (30+) and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (20+). The star turn among the stormies though was a single White-faced Storm Petrel. Quite apart from all the others it wasn't found until later in the morning. Sadly I got no photographs, but it was a fantastic little bird, with a marvelous swinging/ twirling feeding behaviour.

Larger tubenoses were very scarce early on, however the first that arrived made of for the lack of quantity by its quality, a gorgeous Fea's Petrel, possibly only the third New York state record of this endangered seabird. Eventually some shearwaters did show themselves, and we had Cory's Shearwater (4), Great Shearwater (3) and Audubon's Shearwater (3).

The long journey home had a few notable birds, particularly a young Bridled Tern. As we got closer to shore the count picked up, and we eventually had Herring Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Laughing Gull and Common Tern following the boat in to port.

Non-bird highlights included close encounters with single Bottlenose Dolphin and Common Dolphin riding the bow wave, a Minke Whale, a Loggerhead Turtle and a couple of sightings of sharks.

Other photographers did better than I, check them out here.

Having three species of white-rumped storm-petrel together was very instructive. With practice it wasn't difficult to quickly pick out the more interesting birds from the mass of Wilson's Storm Petrels. Wilson's have a habit of pattering on the surface of the sea, unlike either of the other two species.

Wilson's is the only one with legs trailing beyond the end of the tail. It also has the white rump wrapping around onto the vent further than Leach's or Band-rumped.
Part of a large congregation of Wilson's feeding together. Leach's and Band-rumped are more solitary feeders. Note the individual closest to the camera showing the yellow- webbing between its toes. Not an easy feature to see, but it is also not shown by the other species.
Band-rumped Storm-Petrels are somewhat larger and longer-winged than the Wilson's. They generally have less extensive pale fringes to the greater coverts, making them appear darker above. They also have the white on the rump extending a shorter distance onto the vent.

The white band on the rump is also narrower than on Wilson's. Note the very square tail, and the fact that the feet do not project past it.

Leach's Storm-Petrel is long-winged, like Band-rumped, but has a clearly distinguished forked tail. It also tends to have extensive pale fringes to the greater coverts.
It too has feet that do not project past the tail, and the white on the rump does not extend to the underparts at all.
The shape of the white rump is also different, with a dark central line often visible. This bird shot through a flock of foot-dabbling Wilson's while I wasn't looking!

From the Bad Photography Dept, my only shot of the retreating Fea's Petrel. At least it shows the dark underwings! Sort of...
Cory's Shearwater 

 Great Shearwater
Audubon's Shearwater 
... with dinner!
First summer Bridled Tern 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

East Pond, Jamaica Bay - 10 Aug 2014.

After several months taken up with packing, winding up an old house and job, traveling, finding a new house and job, unpacking, sorting out children and all the other tasks that crop up when moving to a new country I am finally able to devote some time to birding. With autumn migration season looming the obvious place to start is with shorebirds, and the best place for that near New York is Jamaica Bay, specifically the East Pond.

One of the benefits of birding in New York became immediately obvious as soon as I arrived, the presence of other birders! Having become used to mostly solo birding in Lao and the Philippines I'd almost forgotten how much more I enjoy birding in company.

I started at 6:00am, about 2 hours before high tide, and walked northwards up the east side of the East Pond. The site is a high tide roost for the thousands of shorebirds that feed on the intertidal zone at Jamaica Bay. Most immediately obvious are the flocks of stints that feed along the shore of the pond. The most numerous bird in these flocks was Semipalmated Sandpiper, with plenty of Least Sandpipers and the occasional White-rumped Sandpiper. We tried to turn several birds into Western Sandpiper, but none were truly convincing, so that will have to wait. Semipalmated Plover were scattered along the shore. As we walked north we stared to find flocks of Short-billed Dowitcher, but no Long-billed among them. A large flock of Black-bellied (Grey) Plover was roosting at the north-west corner of the pond. Of more interest was a Pectoral Sandpiper and a Stilt Sandpiper, as well as a small flock of Ruddy Turnstone, and 3 American Oystercatcher.

Flocks of gulls were also well represented, mostly Laughing Gull, with quite a few American Herring Gull and a couple of Great Black-backed Gull, though the only terns were Common Tern. Lots of Great White Egrets and Snowy Egrets, but only one each of Great Blue Heron and Little Blue Heron.

At the start a Peregrine was hunting at the south end, and we feared it may scare off most of the birds, but it clearly had had a good morning already as soon disappeared.

Along the edge of the reeds were many Northern Waterthrush.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper. They seem to like feeding right at the edge of the phragmites and will often be left behind when the flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers take off.

Semipalmated Sandpiper. This species has a very large variation in bill length with many long-billed individuals having a superficial resemblance to Western Sandpiper.
White-rumped Sandpiper. At first these were tricky to pick out of the flocks, but once I had my eye in the slightly larger size, elongated shape and long primary projection were fairly clear.
Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher. Separating the two species of Dowitcher has always seemed to me to be one of the trickier identification challenges. In juvenile plumage however they are much less confusing.

Semipalmated Plover.