Tuesday, February 16, 2021

late-December 2020 to mid-February 2021 - Catching Up

I haven't posted in a while for a number of reasons. The biggest was that Ann and I caught COVID-19 in early-January. I was lucky and only had relatively mild symptoms which I got over in about a week. Ann, however, had more severe symptoms leading up to being hospitalized and on oxygen for nine days. She is now home and feeling fine.

Since my last post back on December 17, before COVID, and since my recovery I have had some good birding, both in Inwood and elsewhere which I will put together in this post. Back in December we did have a Barred Owl in Inwood Hill Park (originally found by Danny Karlson). Danny found it before the local Christmas bird count, but I agree with the policy of not publicizing owls on-line so I did not report it at the time. We were lucky enough to have it on the bird count.

Barred Owl - 12/13/2020

Another great, in fact incredible, bird for the park was a Brown Pelican on the Hudson by Spuyten Duyvil on January 16, 2021 seen by Dmitriy Aronov and Nathan O'Reilly (and photographed by Nathan). It had been reported up river in Westchester earlier in the day and Dmitriy and Nathan watched for it when it headed downriver. Unfortunately, I was in COVID quarantine at the time and could not go out and watch for it myself. Congratulations to both of them on a great addition to the Inwood list.

Dmitriy Aronov is also to be congratulated on another great find and addition to the Inwood list: a Common Redpoll he found on the ballfields by Dyckman Street at the south end of the park on January 30, 2021. By then I was out of quarantine and was able to get down there to see the bird.
Common Redpoll - January 30, 2021 - Inwood Hill Park

The Common Redpoll was my 225th species for Inwood Hill Park. My full Inwood list is on My Inwood List page.

Away from Inwood Hill Park, I picked up two new birds for my New York State list. I was extremely lucky to get them since they were both originally found in early-January when COVID curtailed my birding. One of them was New York State's first ever Ferruginous Hawk which was discovered in early January up in Orange County. Lucky for me, the bird settled in and I was able to get a brief view of it on January 25 on my second try with Georgia Rose. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a photograph. I believe the Ferruginous is still present, but is often elusive. The second state bird, also originally found in early-January, was a Spotted Towhee in Baldwin Harbor in Nassau County. This was not a first record for NYS, but there are less than ten previous records. This individual was also often elusive, but Hilary Russ and I were able to see it on February 14. The Spotted Towhee was my 430th bird on my New York State list.
Spotted Towhee - Baldwin Harbor Park - February 14, 2021

Finally, this catch-up report would not be complete without noting my dashing down to Central Park on January 27 to see the Snowy Owl that turned up on a ballfield in the north end of the park. A second record for the park, the last one being in December 1890. Because of COVID, this was actually my first visit to Central Park since 2019.
Snowy Owl - Central Park - January 27, 2021

Thursday, December 17, 2020

December 17 - Inwood Hill Park: Look up!

The day started with snow - a lot of snow. From yesterday afternoon through this morning, NYC had its biggest snowstorm in several years. Inwood picked up about a foot of snow. By late morning the snow had stopped and the sky started to clear. By this evening we had crystal clear skies. Ann and I took advantage of the lovely sky and braved the cold temperatures to go out and check out Jupiter and Saturn as they approach their closest conjunction in centuries. The conjunction is still four days away, but you never know what he weather will be a few days from now, Besides, tonight also featured a nice crescent Moon.
Jupiter (the brighter one) and Saturn on the right; Moon on the left.

Jupiter with three moons (bottom); Saturn (top)



Sunday, December 13, 2020

December 13 - Inwood Hill Park: Orange-crowned Warbler

Back on December 3, Nathan O’Reilly found an Orange-crowned Warbler in the fenced area on the north side of the soccer field. Danny Karlson also saw the bird later that day, but it was not seen subsequently. This morning Danny texted that he had found it again in the same area. I headed over and was able to refind it. A short time later Nathan also walked up to see it. The bird was often difficult to see but I was able to get a few pictures of it.




Saturday, December 12, 2020

December 12 - Inwood Hill Park: Cooper's Hawk

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk has been seen fairly regularly around the north end of Inwood Hill Park recently. Today it was perched cooperatively in a small tree on the edge of the large bay at the north end of the soccer field. 

Cooper's Hawk - December 12, 2020 - Inwood Hill Park

The recent movement to do away with bird names that commemorate people I think is quite silly. I think it is far more interesting to find out who these people were. There are many books that provide just this sort of historical information. The classic one for North American birds is Audubon to Xantus: The Lives of Those Commemorated in North American Bird Names by Barbara and Richard Mearns (1992, Academic Press). This book is out of print now, but just published this year is Bird is the Word: An Historical Perspective on the Names of North American Birds by Gary H. Meiter (2020, McDonald & Woodward Publishing). Much of the following is derived from these two references.

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) was described and named by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1828. (Bonaparte was a 19th Century ornithologist and naturalist for whom Bonaparte's Gull is named. He is a nephew of Napolean, deserves a post of his own.) Bonaparte named the hawk for William Cooper (c. 1798 - 1864). Cooper was a wealthy New Yorker and naturalist with an interest not just in birds but also many other branches of natural history. He was a founder and officer of the Lyceum of Natural History (today's New York Academy of Sciences). Cooper edited two of the volumes of Bonaparte's American Ornithology after Bonaparte returned to Europe. Cooper had also supplied to Bonaparte information on at least one specimen of the hawk that would bear his name that he had collected on Long Island. 

William Cooper has several other connections to North American Birds. In 1825 published the first scientific account of the Evening Grosbeak based on specimens from near Lake Superior in Michigan. The scientific name of Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), named by Thomas Nuttall in 1831 also honors Cooper. Another famous bird named for Cooper was a shorebird collected by him on Long Island on May 24, 1833. Twenty-five years after Cooper collected it Spencer Baird named it Cooper's Sandpiper (Calidris cooperi). The specimen still exists in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. For over 150 years it was the only known specimen of the "species" and was argued about by generations of ornithologists. In 1981 a similar bird was collected in Australia and named as a new species, Cox's Sandpiper. Both birds are now believed to be hybrid individuals resulting from the interbreeding of Pectoral and Curlew Sandpipers. 

The Cooper Ornithological Club is named for James Graham Cooper (1830-1902), William Cooper's eldest son and a renowned ornithologist in his own right who did extensive studies of West Coast North American birds.

December 12 - Menhaden die off has a long history

Since this past summer people have been noting large numbers of dead and dying fish along the Hudson River and locally here in Inwood Hill Park. The Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed gulls have all been feasting on the fish and in some cases fighting each other for the carcasses of the fish. The fish are Menhaden also known as Mossbunker, or just Bunker (Brevoortia tyrannus). Many local newspapers in New York City and up the Hudson River have carried stories about the dead fish. Many of the stories have attributed the die-off to various environmental factors, the most commonly cited being low oxygen content in the water, with high population numbers as a contributing factor. Indeed, these factors are probably the proximate causes of the die off. Some news accounts have been quick to bring environmental degradation such as poor water quality or climate change into the mix as culprits. While we should always be concerned about such factors it is also important to be careful not to jump to easy answers. In fact large die offs of Menhaden have a very long history on the Atlantic coast and in the New York City area. In a  quick Google search I turned up a scientific paper from 1999 that reported on a large die off of Menhaden off the coast of North Carolina in 1997 ("A Large Fish Kill of Atlantic Menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus, on the North Carolina Coast" by Joseph W. Smith in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 115(3):157-163.) 

However, Menhaden die offs have a far older history than merely the incident noted above from North Carolina. In his classic 1959 book A Natural History of New York City John Kieran cites an account of a trip in 1679 and 1680 by two preachers named Jasper Danckaerts and Peter Sluyter which they published called Journal of a Voyage to New York, and a Tour of Several of the American Colonies. In their published account Danckaerts and Jasper report on finding on the shores of Staten Island the remains of thousands of fish known as "marsbancken", what we now call Menhaden. Elsewhere in his book, Kieran quotes from a story in the New York Times, dated July 30, 1954 which reports on the removal of forty tons of dead Menhaden from five miles of Rockaway Beach.

Thus, these die offs of Menhaden have happened periodically not just in recent decades, but indeed have been documented for centuries!

Friday, December 4, 2020

December 4 - Inwood Hill Park: continuing Blackpoll Warbler

The Blackpoll Warbler first found by Nathan O’Reilly and Danny Karlson back on November 21 continues in Inwood Hill Park. It is often found in the fenced area on the north side of the soccer fields at the north end of the park. But, sometimes it is behind the brush piles in the northwest corner of the soccer field. When I first reported on this bird I noted that the late record for the species in New York State was December 3. This was based on the species account in “Bull’s Birds of New York State” which was published in 1998. However, today Sean Sime told me that there is a record in eBird of a Blackpoll Warbler seen in Brooklyn on December 14, 2012. Therefore, the bird currently in Inwood is not yet a record late date for the species for New York. Anyway, here a some pictures from today of the Inwood’s Blackpoll Warbler.





Monday, November 23, 2020

November 22 - Inwood Hill Park: Brown Booby

I wish the Brown Booby in this post was my observation, but, alas, it is not! This morning, Nathan O'Reilly and Nadir Souirgi saw and photographed an immature Brown Booby from the Dyckman Street pier as it flew down the Hudson River. An incredible pickup for the park. Indeed, a great find anywhere in the metropolitan NYC area.

I have added an addenda to My Inwood Bird List page of species that have been recorded in the park, but that I have not seen myself. The total is now 255 species.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

November 21 - Inwood Hill Park: near record late Blackpoll Warbler

Just a short note for today. Did not get into the park in the morning because of shopping at the Farmer's Market for Thanksgiving. Nathan O'Reilly texted in the morning that he had a warbler or vireo in the park on the north side of the soccer fields. He followed up with a text that he thought it was a Blackpoll Warbler. In the afternoon, Ann and I were having lunch outside at the café in front of our building when Danny Karlson walked out of the park. He said the bird was still there. So after lunch I grabbed my bins and camera and headed over to see it. This is very late for a Blackpoll. I was able to find it and get one recognizable shot.

Blackpoll Warbler - Inwood Hill Park - November 21 2020

Afterwards, I checked my own records and the references. This is the first Blackpoll I have ever seen in the month of November. It is less than two weeks short of a record late date for New York State, which is December 3. Far more likely at this date would be the very similar Pine Warbler. This bird can be identified as a Blackpoll by the streaks on the back and the yellow feet. A Pine Warbler would have dark feet and a plain, unstreaked back.


 

Monday, November 16, 2020

November 16 - Inwood Hill Park: mainly watching the river

Hoping to get some interesting migrants on the Hudson River I met Hilary Russ on the Dyckman Street pier at 7:30 am. A few other birders had similar ideas and a friend of Hilary's joined us a little after 8:00. We got reports of a female Common Eider seen down river at West 70th Street flying north. We watched for it but finally heard it had turned around and was seen again there later headed south. We did see Bald Eagle and later two Peregrine Falcons chasing a small passerine (unsuccessfully) but the river was quiet except for the usual gulls. After a while we headed north on the ballfields and met up with Danny Karlson. The fields were also quiet. Hilary, her friend, and Danny left and I was joined by Diane Schenker. We continued to scan the river. Finally, Diane and I were rewarded with three Greater Scaup (two males and a female) flying up river. They settled on the water and drifted north. This is a relatively infrequent visitor to the park and are the first I have seen in the park since the winter of 2014. After leaving the ballfields Diane and I spent some time on the ridge, but it was very quiet. On our way out of the park we encountered a large flock of Mourning Doves (two dozen) feeding on the soccer fields at the north end of the park.
Part of a flock of 24 Mourning Doves on the soccer field - November 16 2020

As we left the park we stopped at Muscota Marsh where we spotted the lone Brant from yesterday feeding along the shoreline on the north side of the ship canal. My bird list of 30 species is below.

Brant  1
Canada Goose  8
Mallard  4
Greater Scaup  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Mourning Dove  24
Ring-billed Gull  70
Herring Gull  20
Great Black-backed Gull  8
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Peregrine Falcon  2
Blue Jay  8
American Crow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  5
Carolina Wren  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
American Robin  1
House Sparrow  12
American Goldfinch  2
White-throated Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  20
Common Grackle  30
Northern Cardinal  1

Sunday, November 15, 2020

November 15 - Inwood Hill Park: two new birds for my personal park list

On a mostly gray day I added two species to my personal Inwood Hill Park list. The first was shortly after I started at 7:30 am. I was on the deck at Muscota Marsh when I heard a flock of Canada Geese approaching from the north. As they passed over to the south I raised my binoculars to count the flock. If I hadn't I would not have spotted a group of six passerines also flying south. I was thrilled to recognize them as a group of Evening Grosbeaks! This fall has seen a considerable finch flight with many "winter finches" being seen throughout the NYC/Long Island area. Inwood has had many Pine Siskins. Evening Grosbeaks have been reported from many parks and cemeteries around the city. None had been reported from Inwood before today, but I had been watching for them, so I was thrilled to spot this small flock. It was species number 223 for me for the park. Later in the morning, Nathan O'Reilly and Nadir Souirgi reported a flock of Common Goldeneye on the Hudson River. Danny Karlson and I looked for them with no success. This would have been another new species for my personal list. A while later Danny and I were at the Hudson Overlook on the ridge when Nathan texted that he and Nadir had a Black Scoter on the Hudson near a barge and tug anchored in the river. Danny and I were able to spot the bird from our higher vantage point and watched it as it took off and flew down river. This was another new species for me for the park (and the last of the three scoters for my park list), thus becoming species 224 for my list. This has been a great year for my Inwood Hill Park bird list. I have added nine species to it this year.

I spent a considerable amount of my time in the park today watching from the Hudson River Overlook; first with Danny and then with Hilary Russ who joined us and stayed after Danny left. We had a number of Bald Eagles and a few Cooper's Hawks including one large female. The highlight, however, were the hundreds of blackbirds going by in mixed flocks of Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. The numbers for these species in my day list below are low estimates.

In the afternoon, after I got home to my apartment and had finished lunch I got a text message from Rachel Joakim that she was across the street on the Muscota Marsh deck and there was a Brant by the Columbia Dock. This is a species that is usually only seen in flocks passing over the park on migration. A few weeks ago we had hundreds going over on one day. It is however, rare to have one settle down in the park, so I went out and photographed the visitor.

Brant - Inwood Hill Park (Muscota Marsh mudflats) - Nov 15 2020

Canada Goose  30
Mallard  16
Black Scoter  1     
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  30
Mourning Dove  6
Ring-billed Gull  50
Herring Gull  30
Great Black-backed Gull  6
Great Blue Heron  4
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  1     (late for this species).
Cooper's Hawk  3     
Bald Eagle  7
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Blue Jay  10
American Crow  2
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  10
Carolina Wren  1
European Starling  5
Northern Mockingbird  2
American Robin  8
House Sparrow  30
Evening Grosbeak  6     
American Goldfinch  14
Dark-eyed Junco  4
White-throated Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  6
Red-winged Blackbird  500     Blackbird flocks migrating.
Brown-headed Cowbird  50     Blackbird flocks migrating.
Common Grackle  500     Blackbird flocks migrating.
Northern Cardinal  2