A Travellerspoint blog

February 2022

February in Central Park

New York, NY

overcast 48 °F

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16:

Today, I had a mainly free afternoon and temps were forecast to be milder (upper 40’s), so I trekked over to the north end of Central Park in hopes of finding a Great Horned Owl, among other birds.

I got off the bus by the Harlem Meer where NORTHERN SHOVELERS abounded:
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The average photo of a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET is the same as the worst photo of one, I’m convinced.
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Didn’t do much better with this YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER:
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The Pool had its usual supply of MALLARDS and oddly enough this male WOOD DUCK which seems to have paired up with a female Mallard.
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And the reliable hen GREEN-WINGED TEAL who always manages to hold her ground among the aggressive Mallards of the Pool:
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RED-TAILED HAWK:
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Then, I saw the Hawk take off and immediately two other large birds came straight for it, proceeding to harass it in the air over the Harlem Meer. You can see here, the bird on the left is the Red-tailed, and the bird on the right is my Manhattan life bird COMMON RAVEN, a nice little surprise for which I knew I was long overdue! Many folks don’t realize how large Ravens are and this is obvious when right next to a Red-tail in flight.
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A second one joined too — here is the pair in flight with their characteristic fieldmark, the wedge-shaped tail, very conspicuous.
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Unfortunately, I and and all the other birders were never able to spot the Great Horned Owl though that’s not a big miss as I’ve seen them in Manhattan dozens of times prior to the pandemic. Bird-of-the-day to the Common Ravens!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:35 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Twitch: Common Gull

Stamford, CT

sunny 59 °F

Today I had an impossibly small window of time, from 11:45am to 4:00pm, between work shifts, to chase a would-be life bird in Stamford, Connecticut: the ironically-named Common Gull. This species is a common coastal species indeed, but only in Eurasia — it is a somewhat-regular vagrant to North America. Worth noting is that this species was recently split from the Mew Gull complex to form two species: Common and the Short-billed Gull, which is the species I chased unsuccessfully two months ago in Brooklyn.

Anyway, I had a super short window of time to take the train to Stamford, find my way to Cummings Park either by uber or bus, find the bird, and reverse the process in order to make it back in time for my 4:00pm work shift on the Upper West Side.

Luckily, my outbound train was on time and while onboard, I discovered that a bus to Cummings Park would depart 4 minutes after my train arrived in Stamford. So, after an on-time arrival, I hurried to buy a ticket but frustratingly the ticket machine rejected all of my credit and debit cards. So then I just ran to the bus and hoped by some miracle I hadn’t used all my coins on an NYC bus last night. Luckily, I only came ten cents short and the bus driver waved me on.

So after a train, bus ride, and an eight minute walk, I was at the park and had just over half an hour to find a rare gull that hadn’t been spotted for almost an hour and a half at that point. I immediately noticed a wealth of RING-BILLED GULLS to pick through on this beautiful, almost 60-degree day.
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There was also a group of HOODED MERGANSERS in the harbor. I chatted with a friendly woman who alerted me of the recent Connecticut birding news and asked me about my studies, as well as a few other birders with whom I exchanged pleasantries.
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Well, I soon had to order my uber back to the train station in order to make it back on time, so I rather dejectedly made a final scan of the parking lot for gulls…and three minutes before the uber arrived, I spotted one different gull. I immediately thought “maybe Lesser Black-backed?” but the mantle was just not quite dark enough for that species.
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So I checked the bill on the bird and sure enough it was a pure greenish-yellow color with no ring or other conspicuous markings, which clinched the identification: it was my lifer COMMON GULL!!! Wow!
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Another field mark visible here is the white crescent which are the white tips to the rear end of this birds’s gray mantle (backside).
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Note when compared to this Ring-billed Gull that the mantle is darker and actually the bird is slightly larger than a Ring-billed, though that second comparison is tougher to see here.
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Just a beautiful bird all around! I was thankfully able to get one other birder on it before it flew off, and I told several others about it right as I was stepping into my uber back to the train station. Talk about a near-miss! Bird-of-the-day absolutely goes to the Common Gull, with runner-up to the Hooded Mergansers. I sure am pleased with how 2022 has gone so far!

(Made it back to work in time, too!)

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1128 Species

Posted by skwclar 23:08 Archived in USA Comments (2)

An afternoon birding Long Island

Nassau County, NY

sunny 32 °F

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 6:

Slight change of plans today due to target birds — this afternoon I took the LIRR (and several ubers) out east to bird Long Island’s south shore. My first stop was Nickerson Beach in search of Harlequin Ducks and possibly a Snowy Owl that had been seen there earlier.

Upon arriving, I happened upon a group of birders who were watching this Harbor Seal in the inlet. I remember seeing these here prior to the pandemic, too.
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COMMON LOON:
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Then, I spotted a pale shorebird clinging to the rocks of a nearby jetty and found it to be the lone RED KNOT (nonbreeding plumage, so grayish now) that had been reported here recently! Sweet! A decent bird for wintertime, for sure.
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Odd one out: RED-BREASTED MERGANSER with LONG-TAILED DUCKS:
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RED-THROATED LOON (another example of a distinct nonbreeding plumage):
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Then, while scoping some Long-tailed Ducks by a jetty, I happened to spot my target bird: the group of five HARLEQUIN DUCKS was roosting on the rocks! Sweet!!! I have only seen this bird once before in New York (Shinnecock Inlet) so it was a quality sighting for me. I remember vividly back in 2014-15 when these were some of my most stubborn nemesis birds out west.
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SANDERLINGS on the shore:
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Later, I once again spotted the Harlequins and this time they were swimming and diving near their preferred jetty:
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They have a funny habit of “popping up” when they resurface from a dive as I caught this dorky male doing here:
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The birders from earlier had alerted me that there was a cooperative Snowy Owl showing at nearby Jones Beach State Park so of course I had to order an uber there and see it in the evening glow! After a cheerful uber ride, my driver dropped me off at the Park and I immediately started to bird. There was a group of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS in the surrounding shrubs:
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Despite the passerine activity, I couldn’t help but bee-line straight to the area where the Snowy was reported. All the way from the parking lot I could see the group of dozens of photographers in the dunes so I knew the bird was still there.

Upon arriving, sure enough there was an immature SNOWY OWL which had chosen a rise in the dunes as a roost to scan for its prey.
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This magnificent, frosty, patient denizen of the tundra is one of the most special birds to find and that was evident: the dozens of photographers formed a wide arc, 180 degrees around the owl, photographing from each and every angle in the beautiful evening glow.
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Unfortunately, there was a group of five men who were being disruptive to the owl. While everyone else spoke only in whispers (if at all), this group of men was laughing, shouting, and chatting disruptively in Chinese for the entire duration of this evening’s owl observation. I have seen this exact group harassing Snowies before so shame on them for being most unethical people. What a shame that some folks can’t respect the magnificent creature for what it is: a predator that needs to focus in order to literally stay alive in the bleak New York winter.

The light grew more and more incandescently scarlet throughout the evening with the sun’s dusky yet luminous rays adding the perfect warm coloration. There is no better time to observe a Snowy Owl than golden hour, for sure.
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Soon, my fingers felt like they were going to fall off so I ordered the last uber of the night and it arrived just as the sun was about to dip below the horizon. Perfect timing for a perfect afternoon of Long Island birding.
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Bird-of-the-day to the Snowy Owl with runners-up to the Harlequin Ducks and the Red Knot. Bird-wise, 2022 seems off to a more rosy start than the end of 2021!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1127 Species

Posted by skwclar 00:31 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Twitch: Slaty-backed Gull

Central Park, NYC

overcast 33 °F

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2:

Well, for a twitch it was pretty convenient — the Central Park Reservoir. Slaty-backed Gull. Possible life bird. It was an obvious choice to take the B train down to 96th after I got out of class early wednesday afternoon to twitch this Manhattan mega-rarity. Despite many times of this species showing up as a “semi-regular vagrant” in Chicago during my middle and high school years, I never saw any of those birds, so it would be sweet redemption if I saw this one.

So, I hurried over as fast as I could, a nice brisk pace from the train station to the northwest corner of the Reservoir. I immediately scoped out the (very) distant line of gulls near the fountain on the southern end of the Reservoir and fairly quickly picked out a darker-mantled candidate for Slaty-backed Gull.
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Here is the line of birders and photographers admiring the gulls all the way on the other side of the Reservoir, where I was hoping to get better looks. So I quickly started speed-walking to that side, until the whole flock of gulls was scared up by an Eagle! Rats!
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So, as soon as I got to the line of birders, I quickly figured out who the most knowledgeable were and showed them the photos of the darker-backed candidate I had for Slaty-backed. The birder took one look at my photo and said, “100% SLATY-BACKED GULL!” Sweet! In this photo it is the adult gull (technically third-year) in the middle with a fairly dark gray back. He explained to me that the smudgy patch around the eye and the white crescent markings on this bird clinch the ID. So I had in fact netted a life bird, and I was thrilled to have confirmation! Amazing!
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In this photo (also from before all were flushed by the Eagle), it’s the one resting on the ice.
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Unfortunately, nobody was spotting the Slaty-backed since a number of gulls had resettled back by the fountain, but we did get stellar looks at several pale ICELAND GULLS which are always a treat to see. Here it is, the Iceland is the white-winged gull that is pictured with a larger HERRING and a smaller RING-BILLED GULL, the most common species present:
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Look at those beautiful white wings! This species is always a stunner.
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HERRING GULLS were very common.
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And there were a smattering of GREAT BLACK-BACKEDS around throughout the afternoon.
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The birds were congregating by the fountain which was holding open a small patch of water — pictured here are BUFFLEHEAD, RING-BILLED GULLS, NORTHERN SHOVELER, and a MALLARD.
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The ubiquitous RING-BILLED GULLS (with a Shoveler):
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At one point another birder even spotted this Ring-billed which had obviously gotten into some oil. Poor thing — hopefully it molts all this gunk out next time through its cycle.
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Interestingly enough, the Slaty NEVER returned! So I saw that bird for the last minute it was spotted on the Central Park Reservoir which is pretty cool — had I missed my train I probably would have missed this bird altogether because I only observed it for less than five minutes. Obviously, bird-of-the-day goes to my first lifer of 2022, the Slaty-backed Gull, with runner-up to the Iceland Gulls — it was a solid five-gull day for me with the common Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed rounding it off.

The pelagic originally scheduled for January 8 was pushed back to January 29 due to Covid concerns, but of course the big Nor’easter rolled through on the 29th so unfortunately that trip was canceled altogether! Gah! Hopefully that company will run another pelagic before the end of the school year and the weather will cooperative.

In other news, I will be studying opera in southwest France for three weeks this June so I may just be able to pick up a handful of lifers there too! Stay tuned — nearer in the future, tomorrow I head to Jamaica Bay and Rockaway Beach to hopefully pick up some high-quality winter species.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1127 Species (1 life bird: Slaty-backed Gull)

Posted by skwclar 02:18 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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