A Travellerspoint blog

Queens Big Sit!

Fort Tilden, NYC

semi-overcast 59 °F

Note: I originally wrote this post on the day of (yesterday), but then I realized I had some photos of birds that had totally flown “under the radar” so I had to revise the post *a bit.* It is still worded as if I went today, though:

Today was one of my most intense but enjoyable days of birding in my life! I attended the Queens County Bird Club’s “Big Sit” where the most intensive birders in the county & I sat all day at one location, trying to find as many birds during the day as we could within a 17-foot radius. The chosen spot for the day every year is the Battery Harris East platform in Fort Tilden which is an advantageous location because it is a raised overlook on the Rockaway Peninsula that looks over a variety of habitats: ocean, beach, shrubs, second-growth, gardens, & the bay, of course!

Since I am writing this post from the bus home from birding all day, and my camera has died, this post will be formatted in a slightly-different manner from my usual posts: all non-bird photos will be listed first, followed by my photos with descriptions of birds will be included within my comprehensive personal list from the day.

Overall, the scene was quite comic — anywhere from four to twenty birders with scopes & cameras throughout the course of the day were jammed onto this small platform. It created a wonderful sense of camaraderie, though, and it was great to know some birders whom I had never met.

The view of the New York Skyline, of course, did not disappoint.

Sealife was another highlight of the day: I saw multiple blows of Humpback Whales, one uncommon Gray Seal, and many of these Bottlenose Dolphins — too cool!

Butterfly migration was also fun to observe, with my favorite of course being the Black Swallowtail:

And we can’t forget about the Monarchs!

My home for the day: ontop of here!

This really strange phenomenon happened at one point: there was a contrail in the sky in late afternoon and it appeared to make a “shadow ray” (as opposed to a ray of sunshine). Weird!

Starting the day at 6am, I didn’t arrive to the platform until about 9am thanks to the good old MTA, which had closed several subway lines over the weekend, making for a very roundabout journey both there & back. Now to the birds! Throughout the day, the group observed a whopping 83 species, the second-highest Queens Big Sit total ever! Since Corey, the group leader, started birding there around 5:45am, I didn’t total 83 species, but I did come fairly close! This list is in approxiamate taxonomic order (as opposed to the order in which I saw the birds).

1. Canada Goose
Corey & team had some earlier, but I did manage to spot three extremely far-away individuals across the bay in Marine Park. You’ll have to believe me on this one: those dots beyond that person are, in fact, Canada Geese.

2. Surf Scoter
One of the first “good” birds after I arrived in this morning, this distant flock of SURF SCOTERS did make a few passes over Jamaica Bay, and later over the ocean, as well! Note the distinctive white on the nape (back of the neck) of the male birds, recognizable even at a long distance.

3. White-winged Scoter
We saw a grand total of four WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS today which is a pretty good number for mid-October, considering this is the most uncommon scoter species in the NYC area. Note their namesake white wing patches — again, seen at a long distance.

4. Black Scoter
I didn’t manage any photos of BLACK SCOTERS today, but a few distant flocks of this sea duck flew over the ocean.

5. Greater Scaup

6. Rock Pigeon
Many of these, including one individual who stayed in the same tree for almost the entire day after being hit & stunned by a COOPER’S HAWK in the morning.

7. Mourning Dove
Given the scrub habitat of Fort Tilden, it was surprising that I only saw one of these the entire day.

8. Common Nighthawk
A single COMMON NIGHTHAWK winged over Fort Tilden at about 5:30pm when the sun was beginning to set. This was a first record for the count, and great to get a new species at the end of the day!

9. American Oystercatcher
Though Corey and others had Black-bellied Plovers before I arrived in the morning, we did manage to scope one far-off species of shorebird while I was there: AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER!

10. Laughing Gull
11. Ring-billed Gull
12. Herring Gull
13. Great Black-backed Gull
Many representives of all four common gull species in the area made appearances throughout the day, flying up and down the oceanside as well as Jamaica Bay. I checked all the gulls I could see for any bird chasing them, combing them for my hoped-for Parasitic Jaeger.

14. Common Tern
Corey & I picked out one individual with its distinctive dark hood (as opposed to the dark patch behind the eye on a Forster’s).

15. Forster’s Tern
A good number of FORSTER’S TERNS flew up and down the seaside today, giving a good study for the nonbreeding plumage of the species at a farther distance.

16. Royal Tern

17. Parasitic Jaeger
Amazingly, this was one of those times when I did not realize what I was seeing in the field, and then upon reviewing photos, I had a clear PARASITIC JAEGER! Too cool! Note the dark coloration and oddly-shaped tail with streamers. I cropped this photo and I do remember it was about the size of some nearby Laughing Gulls, which eliminates the possibility for Pomarine Jaeger, and it was too large and differently-shaped from Long-tailed Jaeger. Life bird!!!! There were a few times last year when I thought I got this life bird, but upon reviewing my photos, rescinded my identification, so I was thrilled when I found this photo — grainy but clinching.

18. Common Loon
A few COMMON LOONS flew over throughout the day — always a treat, especially for mid October!

19. Northern Gannet
Although one had also been seen prior to my arrival, a birder named Matthieu luckily spotted a NORTHERN GANNET far-off in the early afternoon.

20. Double-crested Cormorant
We spent a lot of time picking through flocks of DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS to look for their rarer cousin, the Great...

21. Great Cormorant
And we sure did find the GREAT CORMORANT! Note the white cheek patch with differentiates it from the more-common Double-crested.

22. Brown Pelican
The surprise of the day came when Matthieu shouted “pelican!” and sure enough we all got on a bulky bird flying low over the water. BROWN PELICAN! These guys, more expected in Florida this time of year, have been reported sporadically throughout the summer & fall up and down the coast of Long Island, but always in the form of passing individuals, so I was not expecting to see one. Patience sure pays off as this even excited long-time birders like Corey & Matthieu. Later, Matthieu even spotted a second one off in the distance — too cool!

23. Great Blue Heron
This bird was one I saw from the train along Jamaica Bay, but the other birders also spotted one from the lookout before I arrived so I will include it in my day list.

24. Great Egret
I saw a single GREAT EGRET on the prowl for fish & crabs over on Plumb Beach across the bay.

25. Osprey
This OSPREY was holding its prize catch backwards — the first time any of us had seen this phenomenon!

26. Sharp-shinned Hawk
There was a moderate raptor migration in the morning due to northwest winds, but they were not particularly strong. A few falcons & hawks were seen overhead, including both expected species of hawks in the Accipiter genus — COOPER’S & this SHARP-SHINNED (one of many). In flight, the way to tell them apart is that they have an overall different look with the Cooper’s being a bigger, bulkier bird & the Sharp-shinned having a distinctive squared-off tail that can be seen if allowed a decent-enough look.

27. Cooper’s Hawk

28. Red-tailed Hawk
Another hawk, but this species is in a different genus — the “Buteo” genus which are overall less slender and prey on rodents mainly, instead of birds.

29. Great Horned Owl
One of the surprises of the day came when a GREAT HORNED OWL started to hoot shortly before sunset. Corey had heard it in the early morning but I was not expecting it to start up again for me — very cool!

30. Red-bellied Woodpecker
I was the only birder to identify this species from the platform today with its distant, but distinctive “churr!” call.

31. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Corey & others had this bird earlier in the morning, and I found it while I was walking through Fort Tilden before I had arrived at the official site.

32. Downy Woodpecker
Another expected but satisfying species to check off for the Big Sit list was this male DOWNY WOODPECKER.

33. Northern Flicker
NORTHERN FLICKERS were everywhere today!

34. American Kestrel
A few AMERICAN KESTRELS, the smallest falcon in the area, also flew over the platform throughout the morning as part of today’s raptor flight.

35. Merlin
And there were even more MERLIN, the kestrel’s close cousin, which I am always delighted to see!

36. Peregrine Falcon
This immature PEREGRINE FALCON flew over in late morning, probably one of the local birds:

37. Eastern Phoebe
A common migrant for the day!

38. Red-eyed Vireo
As expected, we picked up most of the new species for the day in the morning — the afternoon was much quieter. One of the highlights of the afternoon, though, was picking out this RED-EYED VIREO from a flock of at least a dozen YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, probably the most common songbird of the day.

39. Blue Jay
40. American Crow
41. Tree Swallow
Thousands upon thousands of TREE SWALLOWS swarmed overhead all day long — it was an amazing spectacle that was probably one of the most memorable parts of the day. SO cool! At one point, a flock right above us numbered in excess of 1300 individual birds in the group’s conservative estimate — and this was just a fraction of the day’s total! Unfortunately, we failed to pick out any rarer swallow species.

42. Black-capped Chickadee
43. House Wren

44. Carolina Wren
45. Golden-crowned Kinglet
One of the most entertaining parts about the Big Sit is how to eek the most out of one’s given location. Multiple times, we had “scouts” climb down the stairs and walk the trails below, pointing out any birds they flushed that might be new for our count. Sure enough, one of these birds was the GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, the only one we saw today! The juniper in which it was sitting hosted a number of noteworthy songbirds for the day.

There were multiple times when I would’ve missed the bird had it not been for me standing on the railing (!)

46. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
47. American Robin
48. Gray Catbird

49. Northern Mockingbird

50. European Starling
At one point, another birder spotted a “murmuration” of EUROPEAN STARLINGS — these birds form these large flying flocks which morph in shape when they are chased by birds of prey. Unpictured is the MERLIN which was in hot pursuit of these nonnatives.

51. Cedar Waxwing
A juvenile CEDAR WAXWING gave a fairly nice look to the group at one point, though many others also flew by today.

52. House Sparrow
53. House Finch
54. Brown-headed Cowbird
55. Common Grackle
56. Boat-tailed Grackle
We didn’t have this marshland species at the viewing platform, but like the Great Blue Heron, I did observe BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES as the A train passed over the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

57. Black-and-White Warbler
One BLACK-AND-WHITE gave a quick flyby in late morning, loosely associating with the many Yellow-rumped Warblers.

58. Common Yellowthroat

59. Black-throated Blue Warbler
Right when I arrived, someone spotted a beautiful male BLACK-THROATED BLUE who posed for the group for almost twenty minutes! Unfortunately, he stayed mainly hidden behind some twigs, leaving my photos with something to be desired.

60. Palm Warbler
61. Pine Warbler

62. Yellow-rumped Warbler
By far the most common songbird viewed from the platform today, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS probably numbered into the hundreds — flitting in the bushes, flying overhead, calling, you name it — they were everywhere, and willing to have their picture taken.

63. Scarlet Tanager
My best spot of the day was this SCARLET TANAGER in the magic juniper tree — a first record for the Queens Big Sit!!!

64. Northern Cardinal
65. Eastern Towhee
66. Chipping Sparrow
I was the only birder to see this bird from the platform today, but I got the photos to prove it, so it counts: CHIPPING SPARROW!

66. Song Sparrow
68. Lincoln’s Sparrow
69. Swamp Sparrow

70. White-throated Sparrow

70/83 species is fairly good, considering I missed over three hours of the most productive part of the morning. It was an amazing day of birding with 9 hours in the field! Bird-of-the-day to the Parasitic Jaeger, with runner-up going to the rare Brown Pelican (Corey’s first-ever for Queens County). What a great way to wrap up the weekend!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species (1 life bird: Parasitic Jaeger)

Posted by skwclar 06:28 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Midtown Birding

Bryant Park, NYC

semi-overcast 69 °F

After seeing a Manhattan Bird Alert notice for a Prothonotary Warbler in Bryant Park (midtown Manhattan) today, my juices were flowing to get down there and try to see this beauty. They are simply irresistible: lemon yellow passerines that are only uncommonly found in NYC during migration.

One of my first birds upon arriving to the park after school was this OVENBIRD:


An unwelcome visitor — this feral cat legit lunged at me, hissing violently when I tried to shoe it away from hunting birds in the shrubs. Pretty scary, actually! I promptly wrote an email to Feral Cats NYC who responded later telling me they are aware of the cat and in the process of trying to capture it. Quite the feisty little beast to capture, I imagine! Don’t want him or her hunting these migrant birds, who have enough threats already...

A prime example of these vulnerable migrants are GRAY CATBIRDS — I have seen this species strike windows before — yet another example of one of the many perils our feathered friends face while winging their ways north & south every year.

WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS are back in numbers — they’re here to stay for the winter as they have a particularly affinity for super-urban parks like Bryant Park, for some reason.

And a nice bonus sighting was this LINCOLN’S SPARROW, my first of the fall in New York, which allowed for extremely close looks, yet mediocre pictures due to its frantic nature. All of these birds have the necessary task of fattening up for their journey south — it is either eat & fly or starve for so many of our feathered friends. I really cannot stress how mind-blowing migration is, and how dangerous it is, especially for these individuals who find their migratory paths crossing metropolis after metropolis along the eastern seaboard.

Unfortunately, no Prothonotary Warbler today. Not to despair though, because I saw multiple this spring! Bird-of-the-day to the Lincoln’s Sparrow with runner-up to the Ovenbird, fine birds for midtown Manhattan of all places! Stay tuned — on sunday, I will be attending the Queens Big Sit, where a bunch of the most hardcore birders around New York City will seawatch and bird from the Battery Harris platform at Fort Tilden, trying to get as many species as possible in one day!

Good birding,
World Life List: 977 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:07 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Queen of the Kings

Orient Point, NY

sunny 56 °F

Today, I went on a wild eider chase across Long Island for one long-awaited life bird: the King Eider, a species of sea duck found in the northern Atlantic which has recently been sighted at a place called Orient Point (97 miles away from New York City). I woke up at 6:55 in order to catch an 8:12 train out to Ronkonkoma, and eventually Greenport on the far eastern end of the island. When I arrived at Penn Station, though, I learned to my dismay that the schedule was different this weekend due to track work, and the next train out to Ronkonkoma & Greenport wouldn’t be until 12:15! How frustrating. So, I had to improvise — I soon deduced that if I waited for an 8:42 train to Jamaica and eventually Patchogue (on the opposite shore from where I wanted to go), I could catch two buses after deboarding at Patchogue and make it to Orient Point in the early afternoon. My commute out from Manhattan School of Music to Orient Point would take 6 hours and 25 minutes (!) in total. It would be quite a day — read on to see if I found the duck!

Although I did manage to make all of my tight train & bus connections in the morning, it was still a gigantic commute. At the eastern end of Long Island, the island actually splits into two peninsulas: Orient Point and Montauk Point. I had been out to Montauk before but this was my first time traveling to Orient Point — during the bus ride, one of the things that stuck out to me most about the area was an absolute abundance of wineries. They were everywhere you looked!

Once I finally arrived at Orient Point at about 1:30 in the afternoon, I walked along the shoreline to the exact tip of the point where the King Eider has been seen. Almost immediately, I find their more expected cousins the COMMON EIDERS:

A group of BLACK SCOTERS flew by, my first of the season:

And a few female WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS were swimming near the eiders:

As well as a beautiful male:

Female WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS (front) with a COMMON EIDER (rear):

A nice close look at the female COMMON EIDER — still, no luck finding the King Eider.

Ok, you’re going to have to believe me on this one — at one point I saw a dorsal fin of a Shark species swimming toward the point! I followed it for about a half of a minute but I could unfortunately never find it in my viewfinder. This is the little disturbance at the surface right after the shark fully submerged:

A few LAUGHING GULLS flew by, including this one:

Pair of WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS. At this point, I was joined by a very kind birder named Jody who joined forces with me to scan for the reported King Eider.

At this point, the COMMON EIDER flock was a bit farther afield, scared off by some kayakers:

Then, following the description Jody had just given me of what a female King Eider should look like, I picked out a duck from the flock that looked very good for King Eider. It was overall paler from the female Common Eiders, had a different body shape, the head was more rounded instead of sloped in the front, and the bill was much knobbier and grayish-black in coloration. Indeed, I had found the reported female KING EIDER! Therefore, a “Queen Eider!” Too cool! Jody was also overjoyed to see the bird and we enjoyed a few fairly brief but clinching looks at this uncommon species. Usually only about a few dozen or so of these are found around Long Island each winter, so it was especially noteworthy to find this bird in early October. In this photo, she is the bird on the right — look for the subtle details I mentioned above in order to differentiate her from the Common Eiders to the left:

It was an exceptionally beautiful, crisp fall day to be out to this very pristine location.

Jody was kind enough to give me a lift back to the bus stop, and there we parted ways. It was time for the long, 97-mile, 1-bus, 1-train, & 3-subway commute back to the Upper West Side of NYC! I am writing/posting this at a Starbucks while waiting for the Long Island Railroad back to the city.

Thankfully, at least the first leg of the journey on the S92 bus was very scenic as we drove back down the Orient Peninsula of Long Island.

In total, my transportation today cost $41.25 which I think is pretty dang good for the distance covered — plus, it was all on public transport (no ubers!)

What a whopper of a day, but successful! I am so glad I didn’t go all that way for nothing, so unsurprisingly, the bird-of-the-day will be the female King Eider, truly a Queen of the Kings since she was my life bird! Runner-up to an uncommon GREAT CORMORANT which flew by while observing the Eider, too fast to be photographed. The full species list for my outing today is attached below.

Happy birding!
World Life List: 977 Species (1 life bird today: King Eider)

1. Canada Goose
2. Mute Swan
3. Mallard
4. King Eider
5. Common Eider
6. White-winged Scoter
7. Black Scoter
8. Rock Pigeon
9. Mourning Dove
10. Laughing Gull
11. Ring-billed Gull
12. Herring Gull
13. Great Black-backed Gull
14. Double-crested Cormorant
15. Great Cormorant
16. Great Blue Heron
17. Great Egret
18. Turkey Vulture
19. Red-tailed Hawk
20. Belted Kingfisher
21. Northern Flicker
22. Blue Jay
23. American Crow
24. Fish Crow
25. Carolina Wren
26. American Robin
27. European Starling
28. House Sparrow
29. House Finch
30. Common Grackle

Posted by skwclar 14:42 Archived in USA Comments (1)


Central Park, NYC

sunny 82 °F

On tuesdays, classes end at 1:50pm for me so I have the rest of the day to practice, study, hang with friends, and if I choose to — bird! Today, I saw that there were a few decent birds in several Manhattan parks so I decided to start out with chasing a Dickcissel reported at the north end of Central Park, fairly close to school for me. This is a rare grassland species in this part of the country that is much more abundant in the interior US and is somewhat of a rarity for Manhattan, so I was excited to possibly see one.

As soon as I walked into the park, I heard the “chip!” call of a warbler and indeed, it turned out to be an AMERICAN REDSTART:

I arrived to the appointed place where the Dickcissel has been seen, and there were a few birders around, but the bird was nowhere to be found. There were a few NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS though — this area near the northeast corner of the park is probably their most reliable place in Central Park:

An AMERICAN KESTREL flew by — perhaps another reason why the Dickcissel was absent:

So, I continued on to the Loch in hopes of finding more birds. Along the way, I did see this OVENBIRD. As in classic Ovenbird fashion, it was a blurry photo because these little devils do not stop strutting around:

And my first YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER of the season:

Warblers were overall scarce, but there were a few including this COMMON YELLOWTHROAT:


Despite the lack of warbler variety though, there were still quite a few birds around including a female BELTED KINGFISHER which posed absolutely amazingly well:

This GREEN HERON was bathing as well — scarcely recognizable as a bird when I first spotted it!





Then, a birder tipped me off to the fact that the Dickcissel was apparently being seen again! So, I headed back over to the place. Along the way, I saw a flower which hosted the absolute highest density of Monarch butterflies I have EVER seen!

When I arrived to the plant nursery area where the Dickcissel was reported, I saw four excited birders pointing to a small songbird perched in a small oak — and then it flew before I could examine it! Annoyingly enough, they said it was <the> bird! So I waited...

And a PALM WARBLER showed in the meantime:

And waited. And finally after about a half an hour of scanning this small but very birdy tree nursery, one of the other birders spotted the DICKCISSEL perched in a small shrub. I managed one documentation photo but unfortunately right after this, the bird dove back down into some grasses to forage. One can still discern its beautiful yellow underside contrasted with the brownish-streaked markings on its back from this photo, though:

While waiting for it to reappear, I spotted a NORTHERN FLICKER:

This little HOUSE WREN stopped by:

As well as a surprise visitor to this open habitat, a VEERY. After submitting the ebird checklist for this afternoon, I learned that this species is rare for this “late” in the season around here — very interesting!

Alas, the Dickcissel never showed again so I decided to take one more swing through the Loch to see if any goodies were around. There was a female EASTERN TOWHEE:

“The Loch” is a beautiful part of the park designed to look like the Adirondacks.

And I found the resident GADWALL in the water body called the “Pool” near 103rd St right before I got on the subway back to school.

A wonderful afternoon of birding with brilliant weather! Bird-of-the-day to that mischievous Dickcissel with runner-up to the amazingly photogenic Belted Kinfisher. Honorable mention to all of the Monarchs — it has been a banner year for them!

Good birding,
World Life List: 976 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:09 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Another stranger to Manhattan

New York, NY

sunny 82 °F

Upon seeing a Manhattan Bird Alert for a Virginia Rail in a tiny pocket park in downtown Manhattan, I knew I had to try to find this out-of-place marsh bird. This is a tiny, secretive species which usually spends its days hunting invertebrates by slinking through tall marsh grasses — therefore it is seldom-seen, especially in such an urban environment as Bleecker St & 8th Ave.

After a bit of afternoon shopping, my girlfriend Tian and I arrived to Abingdon Square Park where the bird had been reported foraging along the vegetation along the fence line. Considering that this park was barely any larger than my backyard in Chicago, I thought this would be an easy bird to find. And...I was right! I immediately spotted a bunch of photographers splayed out on all-fours on the busy sidewalk, photographing this beautiful VIRGINIA RAIL which was indeed snooping through the park’s denser vegetation, as reported. Unfortunately, many people seemed to approach the bird too closely and the bird did seem rather disturbed at times — what a shame, because migrants have to deal with so much along their way, especially when a marsh bird like this is confronted with such an unknown environment.

It gave beautiful views though and everyone was delighted to actually see this species, for once!

It soon snuck into a tight bed of hosta plants and was out of sight for the rest of my time there. This female BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER, though, attempted to steal the show — she certainly convinced me! (even if some other photographers were less than interested to have me point her out to them, lol)

This COMMON YELLOWTHROAT was also in the vicinity. A nice assortment of birds for such a small park in such a busy area!

Then, Tian was tired so she took the 1 train back to school while I continued on the A & C trains to get to the North Woods of Central Park where I had heard about some decent avian activity this morning. In the “Pool” (an algae-covered pond adjacent to 103rd St), I saw a group of MALLARDS. But wait, are those two in front what I think they are?

Yep! GADWALL — notice the different, more elegant plumage & thinner bill. Surprisingly, this species tends to stick around the north part of Central Park fairly often. I wonder if they have ever nested...

As I entered the Central Park Ravine (in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the park, made to look like the Adirondacks), I found an early-ish WINTER WREN working along the water’s edge. Very cool!

There were warblers around too, including this high-up AMERICAN REDSTART:

This RED-TAILED HAWK flew over briefly:

Although the numbers were not exceptionally high, several warblers were just delightful to observe. Here is a rare sight: a BLACK-THROATED BLUE female & a BLACK-AND-WHITE male posing for a photo together. Surprising, because usually even different-species warblers will chase each other if they get too close.

The Black-and-White allowed for some nice shots:

Another bird I was hoping to see today, the TENNESSEE WARBLER, posed exceptionally well. The only reason the focus isn’t perfect on these photos is because it was starting to get dark in the early evening and the thick canopy of the North Woods doesn’t help the situation.


And female BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER to end my walk:

An exceptional day! Bird-of-the-day to the Virginia Rail with runners-up to the Winter Wren & Tennessee Warbler.

Good birding,
World Life List: 976 Species

Posted by skwclar 20:27 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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