Thursday, January 29, 2015

Central Park - 29th Jan

A quick walk down to the feeders in Central Park this morning before work to catch up with a couple of nice birds that have been seen recently. First up was a fantastic little male Common Redpoll which has been hanging around the feeders for a few days. Also in the same area were 3 Fox Sparrows, a very unseasonal Chipping Sparrow, 3 House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, 3 Red-bellied Woodpecker and 2 Red-tailed Hawk.

Male Common Redpoll. Quite a few have been seen in various spots on Long Island, mostly in small flocks.
Mainly seen at the Nylger seed, along with other finches such as these American Goldfinch. Also  House Finch in the area.

This Chipping Sparrow is quite rare for the time of year.
Fox Sparrows are fast becoming my favourite sparrow. Absolutely spanking birds.

Male House Finch.
Two Red-tailed Hawks very active today.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eastern Long Island - 25th Jan

A long days birding out to the eastern tip of Long Island. The main reason for the trip was to twitch a couple of good winter birds. First stop was Lake Montauk where a Thick-billed Murre (aka Brunnich's Guillemot) has been seen for a few days. Sadly I couldn't find it, but there were plenty of other goodies to compensate, including two Kumlien's Iceland Gull (adult and 1st winter), several Bonaparte's Gull, Surf Scoter, Long-billed Duck, many Common Loon and a male Common Goldeneye. 

Next up was the Riverhead area to look at the geese flocks attracted to the sod fields. Apart from the tens of thousands of Canada Goose I finally caught up with a Cackling Goose, as well as a solitary dark phase Snow Goose.

After that I headed to Shinnecock inlet for the King Eider, which was hanging out with the flocks of Common Eider, Black Scoter, Surf-Scoter and White-winged Scoter.

On the way home I briefly stopped at Massepequa Park to see the Eastern Screech Owl, before seeing the day out at Point Lookout. Lots of gulls there, including several dozen Bonaparte's, as well as a flock of Sanderling, a couple of Horned Grebe and a very obliging male Long-tailed Duck.

Cackling Goose. I was given a piece of advice when trying to identify Cackling Goose. "...if you're debating it then it's probably not a Cackler". There's no debate about this one!
Substantially smaller than the surrounding Canadas, with a really tiny bill, and a subtly frosty sheen to the upperparts. The boxy head thing? There are plenty of Lesser Canada Goose with exactly that head shape, but the stubby bill is the key feature.
Dark phase Snow Goose, in amongst about 10,000 Canada Goose...
Male King Eider, slumming it with the commoners. A bit far for a photo, but what a bird!
I spent 10 minutes employing all my field craft sneaking up on this male Long-tailed Duck as he preened himself on the rocks. When he finally lifted his head he looked at me as if I was an idiot, then totally ignored me...

Long-tailed Duck were at every coastal site today. Fabulous birds.
All 3 scoters today, though this Surf Scoter was the only one close enough to photograph.
First winter Iceland Gull. In company with an adult at the inlet to Montauk lake.
Eastern Screech Owl enjoying the evening sun.
Lots of Sanderling on the beach at Point Lookout today.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

(Short-billed) Mew Gull in Brooklyn - 22nd Jan

A (Short-billed or American) Mew Gull was reported from a site in Brooklyn late on Wednesday afternoon. Having a late start on Thursday I decided to twitch it, and I duly found the bird at about 9:30 on Thursday morning. It was sitting on the guard rail next to Toys R Us, just off the Belt Parkway at a spot known as Caesar's Bay on ebird. It disappeared quite quickly, but I relocated it at about 10:00am. This is apparently the first of this type on Long Island, most Mew Gulls here being transatlantic vagrant Common Gulls. Its normal breeding area is Alaska and northwestern Canada, and it usually winters on the west coast of the US.

1st winter Mew Gull, L. (c.) brachyrhynchus. Most easily picked out from the mass of Ring-billed Gulls by its overall very brown appearance...
...and much more slender bill.
Separated from similar ages of Common Gull, L. (c.) canus by heavy brown barring on the rump....
...and overall dark brown appearance on the underparts.

Almost exactly a year ago, on 6th January 2014, in Laoag, northern Philippines I saw this closely related Kamchatka Gull, L. (c.) kamtschatschensis.

It has a mostly white rump, but with some dark brown markings...
...and the underparts are also speckled dark brown. The bill is also more substantial, and more obviously two-tone. It seems to be intermediate between canus and brachyrhynchus. The only one left of this complex for me to find is L. (c.) heinei, so a trip to Russia might be in order!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A wet Sunday in January - 18th Jan

With terrible weather forecast for the day I set off with a list of sites and birds I hoped to find there, but not much hope that I'd have any luck. The first site was the roosting geese flock at Belmont Lake State Park. In amongst the thousand or so Canada Geese that have been spending nights here was the Barnacle Goose that has been in the area since late December. I was very fortunate in finding it on almost my first sweep of the flock, standing on the edge of the ice. Next up were the 4 Greater White-fronted Geese which were only slightly harder to spot, tucked in at the back of the Canadas. Other birds there included some great looking Common Mergansers, which are decidedly uncommon in these parts.

Buoyed by this unexpectedly good start I headed off to Massapequa with a little more optimism. In this park an Eastern Screech Owl has been spending its winters for a couple of years, and the roost site was relatively easy to find. The bird was well chamouflaged, and the light was rubbish, so the photographs aren't up to much, but I'll be back in better conditions. Also at this site a couple of warblers have been over-wintering. Amazingly, soon after I got to the designated spot there was movement in the cat-tails. Orange-crowned Warbler and Nashville Warbler, in the bag! Boom!

Feeling slightly light-headed at my extraordinary good fortune in really quite poor conditions I decided to try my luck at Point Lookout, where a female King Eider and at least one Eared Grebe (Black-necked for those non-Americans reading this) have been hanging around. By the time I got there the weather had gone past dreadful and was heading towards atrocious. Despite this I staggered onto the beach. There weren't many birds about, the best being 8 Bonaparte's Gulls and 2 Harlequin Duck. I couldn't turn any of the Common Eiders into something more regal, so I called it a day and headed home for home-made soup, well satisfied. To top the day off I was back in time to see Arsenal beat Man City 2-0. The perfect end to a unexpectedly good days birding.

The same Barnacle Goose I saw a couple of weeks ago, this time at its overnight roost.
3 of 4 Greater White-fronted Goose.

Eastern Screech Owl, peering out at  the grotty weather from a very snug spot. I'll be back to get a better shot in nicer weather!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Banded Canada Geese in Five Islands Park, New Rochelle - 17th Jan

A flock of 100 or so wintering Canada Goose have been hanging around the Five Islands Park in New Rochelle. On 15th Jan I noticed that a few of them were sporting neck bands. They were ringed as a part of a study of Arctic geese, and were ringed in Canada. The website with the forms to report the sightings is I'll post details of when and where the birds were ringed as and when the information becomes available.

Y1K0. 15/01/15
Banded 28th April 2012
Boucherville, Quebec.
Hatched 2011 or earlier.

Y9R4. 15/01/15
Banded 9th July 2002
Varennes, Quebec.
Hatched 2002.
Y1X2. 15/01/15
Banded 11th July 2014.
Iles de Varennes, Boucherville, Quebec.
Hatched 2013 or earlier.
Y2R7. 15/01/15
Banded 28th June 2012
Boucherville, Quebec.
Hatched 2012.
Y1X1. 15/01/15
Banded 11th July 2014.
Iles de Varennes, Boucherville, Quebec.
Hatched 2013 or earlier.

Another collared Canada Goose from Marine Park in Brooklyn on 22nd Feb.

C289. 22/02/15

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Randall's Island - 15th Jan

A morning spent perusing geese on Randall's Island, very pleasant indeed, especially as I could do it from my car and thus avoid the sub-zero temperatures. Several interesting birds including singles of Peregrine and Cooper's Hawk, as well as over 500 Brants, and nearly 400 Canada Goose. The East river had a few Buffleheads, Red-breasted Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant and Gadwall. The saltmarsh area had a pair of Swamp Sparrows, which I haven't seen for quite a while, I thought they'd all left.

Cooper's Hawk, being very obliging.
Downy Woodpecker. The only woodpecker I've ever seen that uses phragmites reeds.
One alert female, and 3 dozy male Red-breasted Mergansers.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter ducks in Queens - 13th Jan

With a late start at work today I decided to try for some of the commoner winter ducks in the New York area. I started at Sands Point Preserve where there were a dozen or so Common Goldeneye. Unfortunately I couldn't find the Barrow's Goldeneye that had been reported from here, and it was absolutely freezing, so I moved on to the World's Fair Marina in Queens, where a mixed flock of Canvasback and Lesser Scaup were with a few American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Ruddy Duck

Lesser Scaup.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Freeport Pelagic - 11th Jan

A winter pelagic trip out of Freeport on Long Island with Seelife Paulagics again. The aim of the trip is to get a look at winter gulls and alcids, and in that the trip was a tremendous success. At the start there were plenty of Long-tailed Duck close to shore, along with Black Scoter, Red-throated Loons and Red-breasted Merganser. A Peregrine scattered on group of gulls before we lost sight of land, causing some confusion amongst the birders as well as the birds. Once we were out of sight of shore we started to see some alcids. Razorbills only at first, with a few Guillemots (which I now have to call Common Murre). The boat crew started to distribute chum, and we soon had a swarm of gulls following us around. Most of the gulls were American Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gull, but there were smaller numbers of Ring-billed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. A few more scarce species showed up, we eventually saw about 25 Bonapartes Gull, 3 Kittiwake, 1 Iceland Gull, and 1 possible Thayer's Gull.

The main target of the trip for me was Little Auk (known here as Dovekie). The prime conditions for this bird are a water temperature of 45 F. We clearly found this temperature gradient as all of a sudden we started to see small groups, all in flight.

The trip back was rougher than the trip out, with few additional birds. Principal additions to the day list were Common Eider, Surf Scoter and Common Loon.

Bonaparte's Gull. Small groups of up to 20 birds close to the coast at Jones' inlet, and singles at various times further out to sea.
Kittiwake. 3 individuals (or the same bird 3 times) followed the boat for brief periods.
'Kumlien's' Iceland Gull. Only one bird seen, for no longer than 5 minutes.

Adult winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. 2 or 3 birds present pretty constantly on the way back into shore.

2nd winter Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Razorbill. The commonest alcid, lots of small groups or singles throughout the day.
Dovekie, aka Little Auk. a few groups of up to 10 birds at a time, only when far from shore.
Juvenile Northern Gannet. Birds present all day, some even following the boat and coming in for chum.
Adult Northern Gannet.
Thayer's Gull? A bit of a mystery bird, which none of the guides on board were prepared to identify. It looks pretty good for Thayer's Gull to me: The jizz was very much Iceland Gull type, with a small roundish head. The primaries, while very pale, are too dark for Iceland. The dark tips to the primaries extend as far as the greater coverts on both P10 and P9, a good feature for Thayer's. The upperparts are a little too slaty grey for Kumlien's.

Greenish-yellow bill, small gonyeal angle and limited dark tips to primaries on the underwing.  The main stumbling block to identifying the bird definitively as Thayer's is the pale eye. Thayer's eye is generally darker apparently, though as many as 10% have a pale iris. Even those with a pale eye show dark speckling in the iris.

The choice seems to boil down to an extremely dark Kumlien's Gull, or a Thayer's Gull with an extremely pale iris. Whatever it is it's an outlier...