Friday, November 27, 2015

Ross's Goose at Riverhead - 27th Nov

Following on from last week's White Pelican I added two more large white birds to my list today, a lovely Ross's Goose at Riverhead, and a group of 4 Tundra Swans at Hook Pond. Both sites had lots of newly arrived Canada Goose, with a 'Blue' Snow Goose at Riverhead being the only other interesting goose.

A single Ross's Goose in a flock of over 700 Canadas, standing out like a diamond in a sweep's ear!

Update 29th Nov: A sad end for the Ross's Goose on Saturday 28th when it was blasted out of the sky by a hunter. You have to feel pity for the sad, pathetic wretch who can look at a creature as beautiful as this and then shoot it. Soulless.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

American White Pelican at Jamaica Bay - 22nd Nov

An American White Pelican was reported from the East Pond at Jamaica Bay early in the week, with 2 seen there on Saturday. That was my Sunday afternoon sorted! They were very obliging, but distant. Great birds, Pelicans.

American White Pelican

The second bird kept very low, we didn't notice it for at least 20 minutes after finding the first bird.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ash-throated Flycatcher in Connecticut - 21st Nov

Amazingly this was my first trip outside of New York state since I arrived in June last year. I went to twitch an Ash-throated Flycatcher in Sherwood Island State Park that has been there for a few days. A cracking bird, it put on quite a show.

Also there was a very confiding Dickcissel in the car-park.

Ash-throated Flycatcher


Pacific-Slope Flycatcher in Central Park - 21st Nov

On Wednesday an unusual Empidonax flycatcher was found in The Ramble. All Eastern species are easily ruled out, so it must be a western vagrant. Opinion settled on 'Western' Flycatcher, a species that includes both Cordillera Fycatcher and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. They were split on the basis of a paper by Johnson and Marten in 1988. This split has since been questioned by a number of other researchers, in the small area of contact between the two species in northern USA and Canada there is widespread hybridisation. The separation of these is extremely difficult, and is essentially impossible without audio recordings, and highly dubious even then. There is only one previous New York record, in 1995, and that was left as 'Western' (despite being trapped and examined in-hand). It seems unlikely that a definitive statement on specific identity will be possible.

Update 25 Nov: Apparently hope of an identification is not extinguished. A fecal sample was collected and hopefully some DNA will be able to be collected. We await the results with bated breath. The wonders of modern birding techniques...

Update 19th May 2016: Wonder of wonders, the results of the DNA analysis are in and the verdict is Pacific-Slope Flycatcher. Not a lifer as I had one in California a few years ago, but at least I can put a name to the little bugger!

New York's first Pacific-Slope Flycatcher. 

The Great Horned Owl has taken up residence near the feeders.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Red-headed Woodpecker in Central Park - 17th Nov

The juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker continues in its favoured spot in Central Park, just next to The Oven in The Ramble. My first Fox Sparrows of winter were near the Tupalo tree, but apart from that there were few birds, and nothing unusual.

Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker. There are now six species of woodpecker present in Central Park, I think I'll try and get all six in a day next week. It's good to have ambitions.
Fox Sparrow
Two different pairs of Red-tailed Hawk were soaring above the park today.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Harris' Sparrow in Albany - 15th Nov

Earlier in the week a Harris' Sparrow was reported from a back garden in Albany, about 2 hours drive north. There was some doubt as to whether the homeowner would allow random birders to tramp around his garden, but it all got sorted, so Sunday morning saw me speeding up the highway. I got on site at about 8:15, and had the bird within seconds. The initial views were slightly obstructed, but soon enough it popped out to feed in the open. A fantastic looking, quite large sparrow (certainly compared to the nearby Dark-eyed Juncos). Very strongly marked, it is quite unmistakeable. According to ebird they turn up about every 2 - 3 years at a twitchable distance from NYC, so not exactly a mega, but a rare enough to get the blood flowing.

The bird was attracted to the feeders in the back garden. Other birds similarly feeding were: Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and American Goldfinch

Adult non-breeding Harris' Sparrow. The most obvious feature is the stonking great black face and crown, followed by the white belly and the lovely pink bill.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Great Horned Owl in Central Park - 10th Nov

A grey and slightly damp morning in Central Park made considerably brighter by a Great Horned Owl which has been roosting in a tree in The Ramble since Sunday. The last of this species seen in Central Park was 3 or 4 years ago according to birders I've spoken too, but they don't often stay for very long. This one looks comfortable, let's hope it hangs around. One bird that does look like it's settling in is the juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker which has been in The Oven for at least a week. It is staying very faithful to a particular tree, and is storing acorns and chasing off other woodpeckers in a very proprietorial way.

Lots of ducks and gulls at the reservoir today, including 1 Ring-necked Duck, 1 Hooded Merganser, 3 Bufflehead,n 30 Ruddy Duck, 10 or so Gadwall and about 400 gulls of 3 different species (Herring, Great Black-backed and Ring-billed)

Great Horned Owl near the Swampy Pin Oak in The Ramble.

Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker

Hooded Merganser
Ring-necked Duck

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jones' Beach - 7th Nov

Another nice day at Jones' Beach, though not a great deal of new birds to report. Best birds for me were the 2 Northern Pintail in the ponds east of the West End 2 car park. Also there were 57 Green-winged Teal, 107 American Black Duck and a handful of Northern Shoveler and Mallards.

Elsewhere the main passerines were the hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding on the millions of mosquitoes brought out by the combination of plenty of standing water after rain, and unseasonably warm weather. A Swainson's Thrush was quite late.

Early morning at the sandbar was good, with over 200 Black-bellied (Grey) Plover, 14 Red Knot, hundreds of Dunlin, 2 Turnstone, 5 Sanderling and 4 Greater Yellowlegs.

This Merlin was very active, though completely unconcerned by my presence.

Swainson's Thrush

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Birding The Met, Ancient Egypt - 3rd Nov

While wandering around the Egyptian section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few weeks ago my eye was drawn to the numerous birds depicted. I noticed that some of them were readily identifiable to species, and that in fact the artists had quite a good eye for the birds, and had gone to some trouble to differentiate between species. The images were rendered in a variety of media, some carved into stone or wood, some written on parchment and some as sculpture.

I think this shows an Egyptian Vulture. The hooked bill is fairly long and slender, and there is clearly feathering on the head.

The rounded head and stronger bill of this bird, along with a hunched appearance say Gyps type vulture to me. Current distribution would suggest that European Griffon would be the most likely, though Ruppell's Vulture occurs occasionally, and may have been more regular in the past.

One of the commonest images is this raptor, which I think shows a species of harrier. The long legs with unfeathered tibia and relatively long tail are consistent with a Circus sp...
...then I found this image with some pigment remaining. Assuming the colour hasn't changed (a big assumption admittedly) and that these birds really were a slaty grey colour then I think the harrier ID is almost certain.

But what is this? The posture is very similar to the harriers above, but the face pattern is a falcon, and what's that big red breast-band? From a plumage perspective the closest Falco sp. in the region would be Eleanora's Falcon. This seems to be a bit of a mixture, maybe the artist was being a bit creative..... 'maybe' about this one. Move along, nothing to see here.

These are quite clearly intended to be Red-breasted Goose, and are generally very accurately depicted, though the extent of red on the neck and face is somewhat less than in real life. I was surprised to see this species represented as its closest current winter range is the western shore of the Black Sea. Maybe they used to travel a little further?
White-fronted Goose every day of the week!
Presumably Greylag based on current distribution, though it's possible that Bean Goose could have occurred in Egypt historically.
The illustration that first alerted me to the observational skills of the Egyptian artists was this one, which was located very close to the next image, immediately below. The difference in bill shape between the two carvings is marked, this is clearly a pair of geese, (possibly Egyptian Goose considering their proportions).....

... while this is undoubtedly a duck sp.
The long neck and upright posture suggest the possibility of a Whistling Duck Dendrocygna sp. Current ranges of African members of this genus don't extend beyond southern Sudan however.

The loose tail feathering, long neck and longish bill show this as probably Common Crane...
...but this is definitely Demoiselle Crane. The head shape and small bill is the first clue, but the clincher is the long hanging breast feathers which are diagnostic.
Possibly the best known Egyptian bird is Sacred Ibis, which appears many times...
...the ink images on papyrus are particularly striking
This is a bit of a puzzler. Images like this appear in many places, and all emphasise the deeply forked tail. I can't help but feel they are meant to be Barn Swallow, despite the overlong legs.

Lots of images, many quite small, of upright tailless short-billed birds. Considering the habitat indicated by many of the other species (herons, ducks, geese, cranes...) there's a good chance these represent some form of small crake, or possibly a buttonquail.

Desert Eagle Owl, can't really be anything else.
Egret sp., possibly Great White Egret
A small heron species. Depicted in groups, possibly Cattle Egret?