A Travellerspoint blog

October 2019

Seawatching, Round Two!

Fort Tilden, Queens

semi-overcast 70 °F

Because classes end at 1:50pm for me on thursdays, I took advantage of the free afternoon and traipsed across New York City for yet another seawatch at Fort Tilden! The conditions looked great for seabirds — light rain and strong southerly winds, which would hopefully serve to push the seabirds into view from land (since Fort Tilden looks south onto the sea). My targets for today were Parasitic Jaeger and Northern Gannet, which have both been seen from Fort Tilden in recent days.

Once I arrived, I again found the BRANT which are resident for the winter here. This midwesterner will never get tired of seeing these charismatic geese.

I got to the shoreline and mother nature bared down upon me. Sand blew in my face, waves crashed onto the beach, and clouds streamed overhead as gale-force winds pummeled the shoreline. So, I was forced to hunker down behind a small sand dune that allowed me just enough of a view of the ocean to seawatch without getting a cloud of sand in my eyes.

NORTHERN GANNETS, as reported by other birders earlier today, were in great abundance, with over 85 of these sulids seen today. The darker birds are immature; adult birds grow into beautiful white seabirds with a yellow wash on their head. Target species one, done!

This fast-flying LAUGHING GULL briefly confused me for a hoped-for Parasitic Jaeger.

Then, I saw a small gull very buoyantly flying away from me. It had a black M pattern on its wings, a black spot behind its head, and sure enough, I had an amazing bonus bird for the day: BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE! This is a very uncommon sight from shore that was probably only seen due to the extremely high southerly winds. The bird on the left is the kittiwake; if you squint, you can barely make out the black “M” patterning on its wings. Sorry, I know it’s a horrible photo. The larger bird on the right is in immature gannet.

I found a deceased Horseshoe Crab which had washed up onshore:

Then, I saw a darker-backed gull sitting on the beach and sure enough, I had a (the?) LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL for a second week in a row! Too cool! Once again, it gave great views.

ROYAL TERNS were much less common this week than last; this was the only representative of the species that I saw this afternoon.

A great day! Bird-of-the-day to the unexpected Black-legged Kittiwake, only my second ever! Runners-up to all of the Northern Gannets and the wonderfully-cooperative Lesser Black-backed Gull. The full (small but mighty!) species list for the outing is included below.

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

1. Brant
2. Black-legged Kittiwake
3. Bonaparte’s Gull
4. Laughing Gull
5. Ring-billed Gull
6. Herring Gull
7. Lesser Black-backed Gull
8. Great Black-backed Gull
9. Forster’s Tern
10. Royal Tern
11. Peregrine Falcon
12. Northern Gannet
13. European Starling
14. House Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 20:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Central Park with Tian

Manhattan, NYC

overcast 63 °F

Today, after a successful audition for the Chautauqua Institution’s summer vocal program, my girlfriend joined me for a fun late afternoon & evening in Central Park!

Upon arriving to our picnic spot near the 96th St Traverse, I noticed a wealth of songbirds around the area including many CHIPPING SPARROWS:


And a couple of DARK-EYED JUNCOS:


Then, we headed north and soon were near the Central Park Pool (actually a stagnant pond) where there were GADWALL with the usual MALLARDS:

The nearby foliage was outstanding:

And there was quite a nice pocket of songbirds including a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:

And a plethora of RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, including this male who was friendly enough to show us a sliver of his scarlet crown:

Best of all, yet another late BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was in the area — the number of this species I have seen this fall is pretty remarkable, and I am certainly not complaining! October 27 is definitely getting on the late side for this beautiful species.

Continuing north onto the Great Hill, we found a lone SONG SPARROW:

And the North Woods in the far northwest corner of the park, though beautiful, was pretty devoid of humans & birds alike, save for this HERMIT THRUSH:

What a peaceful way to spend an afternoon! Bird-of-the-day to the Black-throated Blue Warbler with runner-up to an American Kestrel who unsuccessfully dive-bombed a bunch of Chipping Sparrows at one point. Honorable mention to Tian who put up with my thorough birding throughout the afternoon like a champ.

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Truly, a fish out of water

Union Square Park, NYC

overcast 64 °F

Today, after practicing piano in the morning, a Manhattan Bird Alert popped up, reporting a Saltmarsh Sparrow, of all things, from urban Union Square Park in downtown Manhattan! Definitely a “fish out of water” as this bird prefers to go unseen in salt marshes along the sea. Given its odd location and extremely secretive, hard-to-find nature, I had to seize this opportunity to chase the bird and I managed to squeeze in a quick trip downtown for the bird in my two free hours today.

Upon arriving from the Q subway, I found the usual horde of birders & photographers when a rare bird pops up in Manhattan huddled around a smallish patch of grass on the southeast side of the park. There were definitely sparrows around, including the expected HOUSE & this WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:

A lone SONG SPARROW also didn’t want to have its picture taken:

Then, a woman shouted “I think I got it” and sure enough, a smallish, orangey, streaked sparrow hopped out in front of us, slinking through the grass like a mouse. Bingo!!! SALTMARSH SPARROW in downtown Manhattan!!! Too cool!!!

Here is an example of how close of views it provided to both birders and many curious passerby alike.

And here you can compare it (left) with a more common White-throated Sparrow (right):

And it absolutely provided the best views I have EVER had of this species, which I have only seen twice before: once in Merrit Island NWR in Florida, and once at Plumb Beach in Brooklyn where there is actually habitat for this species: saltmarsh. The amazing Saltmarsh Sparrow, therefore, is undoubtedly my bird-of-the-day, and far and away the most photogenic bird I have seen since the Spruce Grouse in Idaho.

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 13:35 Archived in USA Comments (0)

No...not just a “seagull!”

Jacob Riis Park, NYC

sunny 67 °F

Today, classes ended at 1:50pm for me, so I took the 1, 3, 4, 5 trains, and the Q35 bus to Jacob Riis Park for some seawatching. Since winds were from the south, I was hoping to possibly get some migrating seabirds such as jaegers or kittiwakes. On the walk from the bus to the beach, I spotted these far off BRANT on the golf course — this winter species here just recently began to arrive from the Arctic.

It was a beautiful afternoon to do some seawatching.

ROYAL TERNS were extremely prolific, with many successfully having caught their dinner! I counted sixty-nine, and there were definitely more around, as well.

I saw the expected Sulidae species (gannets, boobies) for the area — NORTHERN GANNET — far off but clinching with its wide-stretched black & white wings!

This LAUGHING GULL, one of many in the area, was resting with a flock of Laridae (gulls, terns) on the beach:

As well as a bunch of ROYAL TERNS, providing me with the best views of this species I have ever gotten:

Then, a couple of uncommon GREAT CORMORANTS flew by. Too cool!

Over in the duneside shrubs, I found a few passerines including this cooperative YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:

While seawatching, probably the “best” bird I picked out over the ocean was this winter-plumage BONAPARTE’S GULL:


Then, as the sun was beginning to set, casting a gentle golden glow on the landscape, I noticed a smaller black-backed gull sitting with the other species in the flock resting on the beach. Yep: LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, a very patchy & uncommon (though perhaps under-detected) species in Queens & Long Island, my first ever for the state! This proves that gull flocks are worth checking: not every gull is a common species! And no gull is just a “seagull!”

Here it is posing with a HERRING GULL:

As the sunset’s colors & shadows grew, it was harder to identify the many gulls flying about over the Atlantic Ocean.

Bird-of-the-day to the Lesser Black-backed with runner-up to the Bonaparte’s Gull. The short species list from my outing is attached below. A solid afternoon of seawatching!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

1. Brant
2. Black Scoter
3. Bonaparte’s Gull
4. Laughing Gull
5. Ring-billed Gull
6. Herring Gull
7. Lesser Black-backed Gull
8. Great Black-backed Gull
9. Royal Tern
10. Northern Gannet
11. Double-crested Cormorant
12. Great Cormorant
13. American Crow
14. Northern Mockingbird
15. European Starling
16. House Sparrow
17. Red-winged Blackbird
18. Yellow-rumped Warbler
19. Song Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 21:37 Archived in USA Comments (1)

A Lark in the Grass

Central Park, NYC

sunny 68 °F

Upon seeing an alert for a continuing Lark Sparrow in the north end of Central Park, I headed there after classes and before my lesson to see if I could find this east coast rarity.

After exiting the B subway at 96th St, I walked into the area of the park where the Lark Sparrow has been reported. Immediately, I had good energy from the park because loads of the more common native sparrow variety, CHIPPING SPARROWS, greeted me! Unphotographed were also plenty of WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS and that classic winter bird, the DARK-EYED JUNCO.

Soon, indeed a spotted a horde of birders pointing their cameras into a roped-off soccer field. This is what happens when a Lark Sparrow shows up in Central Park!

I rushed over the find out that the Lark Sparrow had just hunkered down into the grass, out of sight, because of raptors in the area. Dang! They were right: soon, a PEREGRINE FALCON winged over the park:

After a solid thirty minutes of waiting though, someone had miraculously been able to locate literally just the eye of the bird that could be seen peeking through the grass at us, scanning for any marauding raptors. Yup — an annoying view of it, but LARK SPARROW indeed — a “Lark in the grass!”

After ten further minutes, though, it briefly decided to pop above the grass for a bit (luckily for me my camera was trained on the bird at that instant), and we were afforded a much better look at the bird’s beautiful facial features.

What a strange setting for a rare bird!

Unfortunately, the sparrow soon flushed and was not refound today, and it was probably in its best interest to do so as the raptors were out in full force today, including one of the resident RED-TAILED HAWKS:


Although the warbler migration season is coming to an end, I did find two species today including these lovely PALM WARBLERS:

This AMERICAN KESTREL male was the smallest but mightiest of them all today — at one point he swooped down right in front of the crowd of birders looking for the Sparrow, and nearly caught a Junco, chasing it off into a nearby bush. Then, we observed an extremely interesting behavior: as soon as the Kestrel was out of sight, another Junco flew over to the bush of the fled Junco and went right to the other bird, as if to check if the bird was okay. Very cool, and seen by multiple observes! Maybe this is a demonstration that birds have a capacity for higher-level thinking & emotion than we humans have thought. Here is that darn Kestrel:

One other interesting sparrow found today was this FIELD SPARROW:

And the second warbler species today was this gorgeous male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER I found on the way out of the park! It is definitely getting on the late side for these beauties, but I am not complaining by any means.

This cutie RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET was also foraging on the ground nearby.

Walking through the Upper West Side to get to my voice lesson after birding yielded this immature RED-TAILED HAWK, first spotted by some random construction workers on the street. Maybe a “spark bird” for them!

Bird-of-the-day to the Lark Sparrow, of course, and runner-up to the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Always great to get out! Stay tuned!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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