A Travellerspoint blog

January 2020

Slowly redeeming myself...

Central Park, NYC

overcast 43 °F

After my music theory class let out at about 3pm, I took the subway to Central Park again in search primarily for the Boat-tailed Grackle I missed there yesterday. Upon walking into the park, a pale RED-TAILED HAWK (maybe the famous “Pale Male?”) greeted me with a few soaring circles overhead:

And then I almost immediately knew I struck gold when I heard the raucous calls of almost a thousand COMMON GRACKLES, mixed in with a few RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and EUROPEAN STARLINGS. The Grackles had great antics with the males blowing up their feathers, displaying for females, and all birds showing off their beautiful iridescence. Believe it or not, this is a species that has been in a rapid decline in population the last few decades.

This is just a fraction of what I had to pick through:

It took about twenty minutes or so of sorting through the other birds, but eventually I found my “needle in the haystack” target: the female BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE, a true rarity for Central Park! This species is usually found in coastal saltmarsh (for example, the habitat one may find in Jamaica Bay, Queens where I have seen this species before). In a tree, it resembles a female oriole!

Orioles seldom forage on the ground as this Boat-tailed Grackle did, though:

Then, I headed north about three hundred yards and almost immediately found the mega-reliable immature RED-HEADED WOODPECKER — so nice to spend more time photographing it today:

Next, I took the subway south to the Central Park Pond in hopes of seeing an out-of-season Wood Thrush which was sighted here recently. Wood Thrush should be in Central America this time of year! The resident MALLARDS were on the pond with two AMERICAN COOTS that I believe have been here throughout the winter.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to find the Wood Thrush, but no matter, I found my target bird and my bird-of-the-day the Boat-tailed Grackle anyway! Runner-up to my friend the Red-headed Woodpecker. It seems that after all, my foul birding luck here in NYC so far this year might just be turning around! OR, maybe anything would be disappointing after coming from Antarctica...

Good birding,
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 16:08 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Will my luck turn around?

New York, NY

semi-overcast 44 °F

Today my original plan was to bird a few locations in Brooklyn first and then head back to Central Park. My target birds in Brooklyn were a Varied Thrush in Prospect Park, Razorbill at Coney Island Beach, and Eurasian Wigeon at Bush Terminal Piers Park. Then in Central Park, I was hoping to find an out-of-season Wood Thrush as well as Snow Goose, Green-winged Teal, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Boat-tailed Grackle, all of which have been seen in the last few days. Upon arriving to Prospect Park around 8:15am, I found an abundance of both male and female RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS (sexing is determined by the amount of read on the head):


BLUE JAYS are another common one among nearly all NYC parks:

Among the many White-throated Sparrows present, I did find a single FOX SPARROW which was a wonderful addition to the birdlife in Prospect Park this morning.

Unfortunately, both the many other birders searching and I were unable to find the Varied Thrush, so I checked Manhattan Bird Alert, and upon seeing a report of a Thick-billed Murre in the Bronx, immediately changed my plans. I hopped on the Q and 6 trains taking me to Pelham Bay Park in the northeast Bronx, the opposite corner of the city, in hopes of seeing this species that I have only seen once before. Thick-billed Murre is a definite rarity for NYC waters (the only “expected” Alcid species in NYC would be Razorbill) so I was really hoping for it to stick around for me.

As many birders can probably relate, luck runs in streaks, and not only did I fail to find the Thick-billed Murre, but on the way back to Manhattan I also missed the train by about one second and had to wait twenty minutes on the freezing platform for the next one. INCREDIBLY frustrating! The only bird I photographed in the Bronx was a lone TURKEY VULTURE:

BUT I have to give a huge thank-you to a super kind birder named John Wall for the ride back to the subway, and we learned that we share a common talent for keyboard playing and a shared enthusiasm for old music (though he, unlike myself, is a bona fide expert). So I was really hoping I would have time to bird Central Park for a bit to redeem the day before I had to head to work. Based off my calculations, I had just enough time to cover the northern end of Central Park before heading to work, so I was hoping to find Green-winged Teal, Boat-tailed Grackle, and Red-headed Woodpecker. Upon walking through the Loch, I saw one of the resident RED-TAILED HAWKS:

Unfortunately, I dipped on both the Green-winged Teal and Boat-tailed Grackle at the “Pool,” but I did find the resident immature RED-HEADED WOODPECKER that I believe has been hanging around the area of 98th St for months now. Still a great bird, even though I have seen this particular individual before:

And I noticed that the red is growing in more and more on its head and nape:

Well, even though I dipped on all but 1 of my target birds, it was still very nice to get out to the three of the most beautiful NYC parks this morning: Prospect, Pelham Bay, and Central. Bird-of-the-day to the Red-headed Woodpecker, with runner-up to the Fox Sparrow. Stay tuned, hopefully my birding next weekend will turn my ongoing foul luck around!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 15:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A (Pink-footed) Wild Goose Chase

New Haven, Connecticut

semi-overcast 43 °F

As promised, today I took the Metro-North Railroad into Connecticut (a new state for me!) to chase a Pink-footed Goose that has been frequenting the area around the town of Orange, CT recently. If found, this goose would be a lifer for me! Unlike yesterday’s blizzard, it was a beautiful day to be out and about. The train ride into Connecticut included many river crossings:

After the train and a quick uber ride, the driver (who drove a beautiful Tesla!) dropped me off in the middle of the beautiful Connecticut countryside at a place called “Treat Farm” where the goose was seen yesterday.

Not a single goose was around. So, I decided to make the 45-minute trek along country roads to Lake Wanatauk, the other location where the goose has been fairly reliable for the past few weeks. Along the way, I saw more idyllic countryside, met a couple who pointed me in the right direction, and had a few common rural-area birds like CAROLINA WREN:



TUFTED TITMOUSE, a species that has been weirdly conspicuously absent from Manhattan this winter. Hopefully, the reason is a strong seed crop in other parts of their range!

DARK-EYED JUNCOS, another “winter bird” that is oddly scarce in Manhattan.

NORTHERN FLICKER, my first of the year:

HERMIT THRUSH, nice! Perhaps the most uncommon landbird today as Connecticut marks the far northern tip of their winter range.


Then, I arrived at the lake where there must have been upwards of 1,500 Canada Geese roosting at the far end. This picture gives a view of what I had to scope out:

Almost immediately, I picked out two strange geese in the middle of the flock: the left bird with its hefty bill is a textbook SNOW GOOSE while the bird on the right is an enigma. It has the extremely stubby bill of a Ross’ Goose, but lacks the clean white head that a dark-morph Ross’ Goose must have. In addition, the outer wing feathers appear to be white in coloration, reminiscent of a blue-morph Snow Goose, so I would say that this is almost definitely the SNOW X ROSS’ GOOSE hybrid that has also been noted to have been hanging out with the flock recently. What a cool bird!

It wasn’t my target Pink-footed though. I kept scanning; a few MALLARDS and a NORTHERN SHOVELER (center) were mixed in with the geese. Looking for this Pink-footed Goose was turning out to be quite the “needle-in-a-haystack” situation!

AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS with the geese.

GREAT BLUE HERON presiding over the flock.

This MUTE SWAN stuck out noticeably.

And I will always marvel at the beauty of a handsome RING-NECKED DUCK.

An inquisitive SONG SPARROW popped up in response to some “spishing.”

And HOODED MERGANSERS were a delight to see, diving and displaying for the female birds with their namesake hoods.

This PIED-BILLED GREBE was a nice surprise:

I birded part of the time with a couple named Stacy & Heidi, and they graciously offered me a ride back to the Metro-North. Thanks a million! Unfortunately, neither I nor any birder I talked to today had seen the Pink-footed Goose — huge bummer! This would have been a great lifer, but as I noted in yesterday’s post, part of being a birder is acknowledging and accepting the fact that there will be misses. They leave something for next time!

Bird-of-the-day to that hybrid goose with runner-up to the SNOW GOOSE. No awards for the missing Pink-footed!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 15:37 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Brooklyn Blizzard Birding


snow 35 °F

After an excellent voice lesson this morning, I took the 1, 2, and Q trains to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn again to try again for the Razorbill and Harlequin Duck, which were seen yet again by others this morning (in addition to the Iceland Gull. I was really hoping to see them since I had tried and dipped on them last time. The nice thing about birding adventures via subway is that it only costs $5.50 round-trip: a solid deal for seeing quality birds! The one downside is that it was snowing so I had to use my camera with special care today. As soon as I arrived at Sheepshead Bay, it was obvious that I was birding in a blizzard but it was also obvious that my ICELAND GULL had stuck around! Talk about a “white gull in a snowstorm!”

Due to the snow I had to be more conservative with my photography, but I did manage a few decent shots including the abundant LESSER SCAUP:

And those gorgeous BUFFLEHEAD and their antics:


A pair of NORTHERN SHOVELERS were new appearances from last time’s visit:

And finally after a good deal of walking around the perimeter of the bay, in flew the one-and-only HARLEQUIN DUCK! It was instantly recognizable and gave close, wonderful views despite the snow. As if it was posing for me!

I had no luck finding any Razorbills in the bay, so I trekked through an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood to Manhattan Beach Park where I was hoping to possibly pick them up through sea watching. Birds were evident, including a nice surprise: immature NORTHERN GANNET, my first for Brooklyn!


Distant RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, distinctive with its spiky hairstyle even at a distance:

Perhaps the most surprising sighting here was of a man who stripped down to shorts to go for a freezing swim! Wow — I’m impressed!

Despite a thorough effort, no Razorbills were found here either. Next, it was off to Brooklyn Bridge Park to check for the vagrant female Painted Bunting which has been hanging around pier 5 for the last few weeks. I searched and searched for this rarity, spishing often and even tag-teaming with a friendly birder named Catherine at one point — but to no avail. At least two slightly more uncommon sparrow species were present, a couple of SWAMP & this FIELD SPARROW.

Maybe the bunting will stick around since it has already made such an extended stay, and I will definitely get a shot at Razorbills in coastal Brooklyn in the future so I am not concerned about that species. Part of birding is rejoicing over the successes, but another crucial part is powering through the misfortunes (such as missing the Painted Bunting, etc) — a lesson that can be applied to many situations outside of birding, as well. Bird-of-the-day to the Harlequin Duck with runners-up to the Iceland Gull & Northern Gannet, all quality birds for NYC!

Tomorrow, as long as the eBird reports from today are positive, my birding adventures take me to New Haven, Connecticut to chase my life bird Pink-footed Goose. STAY TUNED!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Sheepshead Bay

Brooklyn, NYC

all seasons in one day 43 °F

After classes today I ventured out birding for the first time since my return to New York from Patagonia! My route took me to the Sheapshead Bay area of Brooklyn where I had a few target birds in mind: Harlequin Duck, Black-headed & Iceland Gulls, and Razorbill, all of which are uncommon to very uncommon winter visitors/vagrants to the city and have been seen in the area yesterday (with the Iceland Gull continuing earlier today). The duck would be a state bird for me; the gulls would be new birds for my NYC list, the Razorbill would be a new bird for my Brooklyn list, and all of them would be year birds for me! My hopes were high to say the least. Where do I research all of the recent sightings? I am constantly checking the Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, & Bronx Bird Alerts on twitter, as well as eBird county rare bird alerts for all nearby counties, and the New York Rare Birds online forum.

After a trek across the city on the 1, 2, Q, and B trains, I walked about three blocks and arrived at Sheapshead Bay, a location I hadn’t birded prior to today.

Immediately, I noticed a huge abundance of ducks and gulls, both on and over the sheltered western end of Sheapshead Bay. RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:


After scanning through some thousands of RING-BILLED, HERRING, & GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS, I found one of my target birds: the ICELAND GULL which was a dead give-away in terms of ID due to its striking solid white plumage (lacking black wingtips) with uniform light speckling, making this a first-cycle bird.

LESSER SCAUP proliferated:

A birder let me know a GREATER SCAUP was also mixed in with a flock a little further along the Emmons Ave shoreline so I walked there and picked it out. One common birder misstep is to I.D. male Greater Scaup solely based off the green sheen on the head. This is absolutely false! Lessers tend to show an iridescent mix of both purple and green on the head, meaning if this is the one “clinching” characteristic, a Lesser at the perfect angle could be misidentified as a Greater. This can and does happen often, so here is how you differentiate the two (among male birds): to have a Greater, the bird must qualify in both of the following characteristics — a very clear, straight-line differentiation between the more striated upper wing and the pale sides of the bird (when sitting down) as well as a peak to the head that is clearly toward the front of the head which can give the Greater’s head more of a rounded appearance than the Lesser’s. These characteristics can be seen here in the single bird I had today:

COMMON LOONS put on a show today:


This interesting bird mainly resembles an American Black, but has some characteristic iridescent green of its more abundant cousin, making this most likely an AMERICAN BLACK X MALLARD hybrid, or some sort of backcross between the two species.

At point, someone started chumming (throwing chunks of bread into the water), creating a spectacular feeding (and pooping) frenzy:

The resident raft of LESSER SCAUPS with RING-BILLED GULLS:

Although I failed to find any of my target birds other than the Iceland Gull, I took advantage of the evening to try to photograph one of my favorite waterfowl species: the one-and-only BUFFLEHEAD!

The sunset made the clouds above the bay look absolutely gorgeous. Then I called it a day and headed back to the Manhattan School of Music via subway.

Bird-of-the-day to the Iceland Gull, with runner-up to the Greater Scaup! 2020 has been off to a great start so far!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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