Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cassin's Kingbird at Floyd Bennett Field - 30 Nov

Temperatures were considerably higher today than recently, and I'm sure that is what caused the Cassin's Kingbird to show himself so well today at Floyd Bennet Field. It was first found a couple of weeks ago, and is the second state record of this southwestern species. It was very active, doing plenty of flycatching, and covering quite a wide area of the picnic ground and community gardens.

After this successful start to the day I headed off to Jamaica Bay which is a good wintering area for waterfowl. A large flock of Canada Goose were at the south end, along with reasonable numbers of other waterfowl, including about 300 Ruddy Duck, 33 Greater Scaup, 6 Snow Goose, 25 Hooded Merganser, 3 Red-breasted Merganser plus small number of Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall and Bufflehead. Just visible at the north end of the pond was a lovely male Eurasian Wigeon, not exactly a major rarity here (there are at least 2 others in New York at the moment), but scarce enough, and my first self-found US rarity.

A surprise find was an American Woodcock, flushed from the trail as I approached one of the hides. Absolutely smashing, but way too fast for a picture.

I'd started the dat at Point Lookout trying to connect with the Harlequin Ducks there, but no luck, The Common Eider flock had increased to 20 birds, including one adult and a first-year male.

Cassin's Kingbird. I dipped on Friday, spending about 3 hours standing around in the freezing cold, but I got onto it straightaway today.
It was very active, regularly fly-catching. I think it must have found catching insects over the last couple of very cold days quite difficult, and it was probably starving today!

The most likely confusion species in New York is Western Kingbird (also accidental, though much more regular). The principal features identifying this as Cassin's are; the darker grey head, contrasting white malar and chin (not visible here)...
...pale-edged wing coverts, and pale tip to the tail.
All features more or less visible here.

American Wigeon.
Redhead. Quite the prettiest duck I think I've ever seen!
A nice flock of Common Eider at Point Lookout today, including this male and female....
....and this first winter male.
Double-crested Cormorant.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Long Island sites - 28th Nov

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. Two days off attached to a weekend, shops too full for comfort and family cuddled up in front of the telly, which all adds up to a full days birding! I elected to visit a number of Long Island sites, trying to catch up with the vagrant Cassin's Kingbird and then tracking down some winter ducks. I started at Floyd Bennett Field.

This site is an old USAF base, with large areas of short grass, interspersed with more wooded or shrubby patches. Sadly there was no sign of the Kingbird early on, but I got great views of a Fox Sparrow, as well as a group of 4 American Pipits flying over, 3 separate Northern Harriers including one male, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk. At about 9:30 I decided to head over to Jones Beach again, a site I'm starting to like very much indeed.

I started at the West Car Park. The flock of Horned Larks had been augmented by a large flock of at least 100 Snow Buntings. Once again there was at least one Lapland Longspur with them. I walked down the beach to the jetty at the west end (at least two more Northern Harriers, including a cracking male), then followed the inlet around to the Coast Guard Station. The wind was quite high, which made scope-work difficult, but I did manage to find quite a few birds including about 4 Red-throated Loon, 5 Common Loon, 7 White-winged Scoter, 20+ Black Scoter, 1 Common Eider, 2 Purple Sandpipers and several small flocks of Dunlin. Once at the Coast Guard Station I relocated the Marbled Godwit still associating with the American Oystercatchers. Also there were 8 Red-breasted Merganser, several Bufflehead, and best bird of the day for me, 3 Long-tailed Duck in the bay.

Next stop was Point Lookout. I'd been told the 3rd jetty was the spot for the Harlequin Ducks, so that's where I went! No luck, but I know the site now, and will include it on all future outings. It seems more sheltered than the jetty at Jones Beach, and I can see why it attracts birds. There were several species feeding in the calm water between the jetties, including several more Red-throated Loons and Commons Loons, 2 more Common Eider and a winter plumaged Horned Grebe (aka Slavonian Grebe, a bird I haven't seen in 26 years!)

Fox Sparrow. A smashing bird, stood out like a sore thumb!
Marbled Godwit. Still hanging out with the Oystercatchers, and one Dunlin here.

Winter-plumaged Dunlin.
Snow Bunting. Really very pretty.
There was a flock of about 100, flying around the carpark, with, hidden amongst the masses...
...this Lapland Longspur
Common Eider.
White-winged Scoter.
Common Loon.
Great Blue Heron

Lots of Northern Harriers today, including this juvenile...

...which was very obliging.

Also present at Jones Beach was this beautiful male.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jones Beach - 21 Nov

Quite a few good birds were reported over the week from Jones' Beach, so I decided to spend my Saturday morning there.

I started at the coast guard station where the sand bar held a large flock of roosting American Oystercatchers and Dunlin. Hidden in the Oystercatchers was a solitary Marbled Godwit, as well as a few Sanderling and some Grey Plovers.

The sheltered bay had a group of 15 Red-breasted Mergansers, as well as smaller numbers of Bufflehead and a Hooded Merganser. Flying past were several small groups of Surf Scoter. Brants were everywhere, of course!

Next stop was the west end car park. Compared to last week I was very successful, with the first bird seen being the vagrant Common Ground Dove. It was hunched trying to get warm in the early morning sun, and I very nearly drove past it. With that under my belt I headed out to the jetty area where there were more Dunlin on the beach, and lots of movement offshore including more Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Loon and several flocks of both Black Scoter and Surf Scoter.

The short grass near the car parks had a small flock of passerines, most of which turned out to be Horned Lark, but there were also 2 Snow Buntings, and 3 Lapland Longspurs.

Other birds in the area included singles of Northern Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin.

Common Ground Dove. This Florida native has been hanging around for a couple of weeks, and is only the second record for New York state I think.
A flock of Black Scoter. Thanks to Joe for help with the ID!
Female Red-breasted Merganser

Horned Lark.
Snow Bunting.
American Herring Gull. This bird was smashing open shells by dropping them onto the roadway....
... clever bird!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ring-necked Duck in Central Park - 19th Nov

Below freezing temperatures all day in Central Park, with a stiff southerly breeze thrown in. Most of the waterfowl on the reservoir were in the shelter of the bank on the southern and western side. The usual crop of Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Bufflehead and Hooded Merganser had been joined by two male Ring-necked Duck, apparently quite a rarity at this site.

One of two adult male Ring-necked Duck.
Male Gadwall
Red-shouldered Hawk 
Winter American Goldfinch

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Marshlands Conservancy - 16th Nov

A much more overcast, and consequently warmer, day than yesterday. I decided to spend a couple of hours at Marshlands. The bird feeders were very productive, with Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Purple Finch, House Finch and American Goldfinch all present, as well as several commoner species.

The shoreline was interesting, with Belted Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron both feeding, as well as over 50 American Black Duck in the marshy areas. The open water was mostly populated by Bufflehead, with at least 63 birds present, though possibly many more.

The small swampy area near the car-park was the best spot however, with Song, Marsh and White-throated Sparrows all present. Best bird of all was an American Tree Sparrow, seen just as I had to leave!

American Tree Sparrow. The key identification features visible in this photo are; the bicoloured bill (dark upper mandible and pale lower mandible), strong white wing-bar and the rufous eye-line. Not visible is the dark chest spot, which I didn't see.
The crown of this species is supposed to be largely rufous, while this has a clear broad pale crown-stripe, reminiscent of White-crowned Sparrow. Judging by a quick google search this is a variable feature, and while this bird is at the extreme end, it is within the range of possibilities.
One of 10 Wild Turkeys hanging around the information centre.

Jones Beach (West End) - 15th Nov

Autumn is definitely here! This morning was the coldest I have yet experienced in the US. It was a beautiful day though, and I decided to visit the fabled Jones Beach for the first time, to twitch the Common Ground-Dove that has been hanging around for a week or so. The site itself looks like an excellent migrant-trap, with a variety of habitats including beach, dunes, reedbeds and mixed woodland, with a sheltered inlet by the coast guard station for winter waterfowl and gulls. Despite the cold snap the expected fall of migrants didn't really appear, but it was a nice morning nevertheless. Best bird at the Coast Guard station was a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, other birds included; a flyover Common Loon, Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, Brant, Canada Goose, American Oystercatcher and quite a lot of Double-crested Cormorant.

The west car park area had lots of Northern Flickers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Tree Swallows, with lots of Red-winged Blackbirds passing through. Other birds included a pair of House Finch, as well as a female Northern Harrier.

The Common Ground-Dove, the object of the twitch, was much more elusive. As I was waiting with a couple of other birders it was seen briefly very nearby by a fourth birder who's assumed we were looking at it. It was flushed and disappeared for a while. An hour or so later, after I returned from the coast guard station, I saw a Mourning Dove fly through the beach scrub. It was closely followed by a smaller bird which we assumed to be the target bird, however I got nothing on it at all, so a dippy end to a pleasant morning. Jones Beach is good though, I shall come back regularly I think...

Northern Harrier
Hundreds of Tree Swallows were flying en masse over the reedbeds. Occasionally they would drop down onto the low bushes and feed on the berries, very odd behaviour for a swallow!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Central Park - 4th Nov

A beautiful autumn morning in Central Park, so I spent an hour or so before classes circumnavigating the reservoir (with a small detour into the Pinetum). Best birds were the 8 Buffleheads (6 male, 2 female) and 7 Hooded Mergansers (3 male, 4 female). A male Wood Duck was very nice, and nearby was my first American Coot of autumn. Also present were the usual crop of Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Shoveller, Mallard, Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

In the Pinetum there were still plenty of both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, as well as many Dark-eyed Juncos, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, several Hermit Thrush, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch and a Brown Creeper.

Male Bufflehead. 6 were on Central Park reservoir last Friday (3 males, 3 females). There were 8 today (6 males, 2 females)
Female Bufflehead 
Male Hooded Merganser 
Male and female Hooded Merganser
Male Wood Duck
American Coot 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, showing the nominate feature....
...which is much easier to see on the many Golden-crowned Kinglets!