Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Central Park - Apr 30 - Cool and very wet

I had a few hopes for this morning's American Museum of Natural History bird walk in Central Park. I hoped there might be a break in the rain before it really settled in later in the day. Barring that, I hoped for mass sanity among my registered participants and no one would show so that I could go and have a nice leisurely, hot breakfast. My hopes were dashed on both counts. The hiatus in the rain didn't come until we were headed out of the park a little before 9:00 am. As for the second hope, three crazy intrepid people were waiting for me when I arrived at 7:00 am. My regulars can probably make a good guess as to which three were there. I reminded them that as long as I did not use their names, they would have no grounds for a libel suit no matter what I might say on this blog. One pointed out that the truth was always a valid defense.

Getting to the birds, despite the weather we had a list of 27 species, including a handful of the expected warblers.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - still six on the Lake
Double-crested Cormorant - 2
Great Egret - 1, flyover bu the Bow Bridge
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
Fish Crow - 1, heard
Barn Swallow - 3, the Lake
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1, between Bow Bridge and the Point
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - several, including a singing male
Veery - 1, my first of the year
American Robin
European Starling
Black-and-white Warbler - 1, male between Bow Bridge and the Point
Palm Warbler - 1, Hernshead
Yellow-rumped Warbler - a handful
Chipping Sparrow - 6, Feeders
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch - feeders
House Sparrow

The temperature tomorrow is supposed to get into the mid 70's. The question is will the rain stop by tomorrow's 7:00 am start time, or will it linger later.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jefferson & Oswego Cos. - Apr 28 - Willow in the Wind

After leaving the Willow Ptarmigan apparently settling in to roost for the night on the evening of Apr 27, Sean and Doug and I drove to Watertown and found a motel for the evening. We planned to spend the night, but get up early on the 28th to get back to the Willow Ptarmigan at sun-up to see it again and try for more pictures in the early morning light. We were up at 4:30 am and driving the last quarter mile or so to the ptarmigan spot as the sun came up. Alas, there was no sign of the ptarmigan in the tree where we had last seen it the night before. We spent about an hour searching for it but did not find it. A local birder from Watertown was also searching for it unsuccessfully. Whether it had decided to head back north, or moved to another nearby, but inaccessible location, we will probably never know. The Snowy Owl from yesterday was still there, perched atop a silo.

Snowy Owl                                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo

When we finally gave up we headed off Point Peninsula. On the way we heard the sound of a displaying Wilson's Snipe overhead as we passed a wet area. Though mostly done at night these snipes were putting on an early morning show. Their distinctive "winnowing" display sound is not vocal, but is produced by vibrations through their specially adapted tail feathers in flight. Recordings of this wonderful display sound can be found here. I have heard the display of American Woodcocks many times, but this was the first time I had heard snipes. On the side of the road here we were surrounded by the sound. We estimated seven males here and saw four in the air at once. Sean, Doug and I agreed later that after seeing the ptarmigan the night before this was the most memorable birding experience of our two day trip. There were also 16 Ring-necked Ducks here as well as Wood Ducks, Mallards, Buffleheads and Pied-billed Grebes.

From here we headed over to the Perch River Wildlife Management Area north of Watertown. This is a wonderful spot with great birding.

Perch River WMA                                                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo

There were a variety of waterfowl here, including Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Common Merganser. Overhead were Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Broad-winged and Red-tailed hawks, harriers and a Merlin. The real highlights were some of the heard only birds - another "winnowing" snipe, two Marsh Wrens and four American Bitterns and four Virginia Rails. We had seen some Caspian Terns the day before and earlier that morning, but finding 40 here was a treat.

Caspian Terns at Perch River WMA                                                      © Joseph DiCostanzo

After leaving Perch River, Doug suggested we stop at the Derby Hill Hawk Watch in Mexico, Oswego County on the shore of Lake Ontario. We weren't expecting much since the winds did not seem favorable for much of a hawk flight. We were very pleasantly surprised. I had never been to Derby Hill before and compared to big flight days, there weren't a lot of birds, but in the just under two hours we were there over 1200 Broad-winged Hawks came over along with small numbers of Turkey Vultures, Osprey, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Cooper's Hawk.

After Derby Hill, there was the long ride home to NYC, but it was a great two days birding!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Point Peninsula - Apr 27 - White birds in trees

On Sunday, April 27, I went birding far from New York City. Sean Sime and Doug Gochfeld picked me up sometime after 1:00 pm and we headed up to Point Peninsula in Jefferson County, New York on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in hopes of seeing the winter plumaged Willow Ptarmigan that was discovered there a few days ago. It was a nearly six hour drive, but prior commitments prevented us from leaving any earlier in the day. We knew from postings on the Internet and cellphone calls from friends that the bird was being seen. We also knew that the navigation software Doug and Sean were using projected an arrival at the bird's location of about 7:15 pm with sunset less than an hour later a few minutes after 8:00 pm. We had very little margin for error (or traffic delays). In the end we arrived at about 7:20 pm, hoping there would still be birders around watching the bird so that we would not have to waste time in searching for it. In our final few miles to the site Sean noticed another vehicle behind us and Doug recognized that it was Richard Crossley of New Jersey. When we got to a "T" intersection on the lake shoreline we turned left following the directions to the GPS coordinates we had been given and Richard turned right. When we didn't find the bird or any birders we decided to turn around and go the way Richard had gone. We quickly encountered Richard coming back, he also having had no luck. Doug and I both got on our cellphones trying to reach friends who had seen the ptarmigan earlier in the day while Sean continued driving, declaring, "I'll spot it before you reach anyone." He did! It was walking around in a small tree that extended out over the water, feeding on buds.

Willow Ptarmigan                                                                                                        © Joseph DiCostanzo

Once found, the bird was extremely tame and didn't seem to take any notice of us.

Willow Ptarmigan                                                                                © Joseph DiCostanzo

In the picture above, note the black tail and the large feet, feathered to the ends of the toes. The only previous report of the species for New York State was in 1876, but John Bull in his book, Birds of New York State (1974) relegated that report to the hypothetical list.

While we enjoyed watching the ptarmigan, I believe it was Doug who called attention to another large white bird in a tree top behind us, across the road.

Snowy Owl                                                                                             © Joseph DiCostanzo

Out on the lake there were flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, a few Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Common and Red-breasted mergansers, a White-winged Scoter and a Common Loon. It was definitely a case of black-and-white birding!

[UPDATE: I was exhausted when I wrote the above last night. I should have mentioned the ptarmigan was my 405th species for New York State. I will have a second post about the following day's birding.]

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 26 - between the rains

It rained quite a bit overnight, but then broke up around sunup before the rains came back again in the afternoon. Errands and other commitments meant I didn't even have time to get up on the ridge this morning while the weather was nice. I did get a little way up the Clove and heard calling Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal and White-throated Sparrow among the expected residents and migrants, but did not hear or see any warblers. Once again it gave me an opportunity to note some of the trees that are in bloom or starting to bloom. The Eastern Redbuds are starting. Part way up the Clove a Black/Sweet Birch was festooned with long yellow-green catkins shining in the early morning sun.

Black/Sweet Birch catkins                                                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo

Black/Sweet Birch bark                                                           © Joseph DiCostanzo

Friday, April 25, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 25 - Cool, still very few birds

Another cool morning with few birds around. The only warblers I came across were three Palms north of the meadow on the ridge. An Eastern Phoebe was calling persistently from the vicinity of the Indian Caves in the Clove. My only new bird for the year was a calling Eastern Towhee on the ridge.

Though the birding was slow, it was a beautiful morning with crystal blue skies. The woods are getting prettier and prettier with flowering trees and more and more color. It is surprising how much behind the flowers are in Inwood compared to Central Park. Inwood is a few miles further north and at a higher elevation, but the difference is striking. Nevertheless, there is a green haze at many levels with all the new leaves bursting forth on the bushes and trees. Against this background and with the still mostly bare branches some trees are contributing their various colors. The Shadblow/Serviceberry is rapidly coming into bloom all through the woods, with layers of white blooms.

Shadblow                                                             © Joseph DiCostanzo

The native cherry trees, I believe Pin Cherry, are also now putting on a show in the park.

Cherry blossoms                                                                   © Joseph DiCostanzo

 Adding a splash of red here and there are the Red Maples.

Red Maple                                                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo
Also adding their own distinctive red are the developing leaves of the park's extremely abundant Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy                                                                                      © Joseph DiCostanzo

 Providing a link to the past, I came across this near perfect oyster shell on the ground atop one of the old Indian oyster middens.

Oyster shell                                                                                         © Joseph DiCostanzo

 Even when there are few birds around there are still lots of things to see.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Central Park - Apr 24 - back to cold, but with some warblers

Cold this morning for my Thursday morning American Museum of Natural History bird walk in Central Park. It was 40° F when we started, about ten degrees colder than yesterday morning. Our comfort was not helped by the northwest breeze that made it feel even colder. However, forgetting the temperature, the skies were a lovely, clear blue. As someone commented, it was a perfect fall day - unfortunately it is late April, not late-October! We still managed to have a good morning's birding with a some nice birds. We did not find yesterday's Cerulean Warbler, but we ran into many birders who were also searching for it - also unsuccessfully, at least through 9:00 am when we left. We did find the male Prairie Warbler in the same spot on the Point as yesterday. We never made it up to Turtle Pond since we made two attempts for the Cerulean by Bow Bridge, but our total of 36 species was a little higher than yesterday's. The full list follows.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - still about 20 on the Lake
Double-crested Cormorant 2, on the Lake and flying over
Great Egret - 1, at the end of the Point
Ring-billed Gull - flyover
Herring Gull - flyover
Great Black-backed Gull - flyover
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker - watched one male apparently clearing out a nest hole
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker - calling in many places, plus seen
Blue-headed Vireo - a fairly cooperative bird was on the Point
Blue Jay
Brown Creeper - 1, west of the Oven
House Wren - 1, on the ground on the Point; my first of the year
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - several
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - scattered around, many males were singing
Hermit Thrush - at least three
American Robin
European Starling
Black-and-white Warbler - 1, on the Point; my first of the year, though I had heard of them being seen
          at least a week ago
Palm Warbler - all over
Pine Warbler - 1, very dull individual on the Point
Yellow-rumped Warbler - many places
Prairie Warbler - male on the Point; did not hear it singing today
Chipping Sparrow - feeders
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow - still singing all over the Ramble, though fewer than in recent weeks
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch - feeders
American Goldfinch - feeders, some adult males now in full color
House Sparrow

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Central Park - Apr 23 - Cool temps, but some good birds!

It was mostly cloudy with cool northwest winds for my Wednesday morning Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. bird walk in the Ramble. Despite the weather we had a great morning. I owe thanks for the best birds to John Walsh and Danny Lynch who were in birding on their own, but who called me on my cell phone with reports. We were up at the south side of Turtle Pond when my phone first rang. It was John calling to say they were looking at a male Cerulean Warbler at the north end of Bow Bridge. We wasted no time getting down there and were rewarded with nice views of the Cerulean. It was frequenting a tree with numbers of Palm, Yellow-rumped and at least two Pine Warblers. After everyone had good looks we continued our walk around the Ramble. We were approaching the Azalea Pond when my phone range again - John again with word of a Prairie Warbler on the Point. It was a much shorter walk this time to lovely views of a very cooperative, singing Prairie. There had also been a Nashville Warbler around, but it had disappeared by the time we got there. The entire list of 32 species follows.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - 20 on the Lake
Double-crested Cormorant - a few flying over
Great Egret - one flying over Belvedere
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo - a few scattered individuals
Blue Jay
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - one over Lake
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - two or three
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - individuals all around Ramble
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing - six, south of feeders
Cerulean Warbler - one male, north end of Bow Bridge
Palm Warbler - fifteen to twenty; many on the Point and by old Pin Oak area
Pine Warbler - two by Bow Bridge
Yellow-rumped Warbler - many
Prairie Warbler - one singing male on the Point
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow - one, Belvedere
White-throated Sparrow - fewer than in recent weeks but still all over
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch - feeders
House Sparrow

On the way out there was a sleeping Raccoon in a tree near the stone arch by the Upper Lobe.

sleeping Raccoon                                                                                   © Joseph DiCostanzo
When we were leaving another group told us they had seen the Cerulean Warbler on Hernshead, as well as an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron. We did not see the warbler, but Chuck and I did see the night-heron.

Black-crowned Night-Heron                                                                                      © Joseph DiCostanzo

Lydia Thomas and I went into the Ramble at lunchtime. We did not see either of the uncommon warblers, but there were still lots of Palms and Yellow-rumps around.

[UPDATE: I checked my records and the Cerulean was the first time I have had that species on one of my AMNH Central Park bird walks. It was species number 172 for the nearly eighteen years I have been doing the walks.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 22 - few birds, but more trees in bloom

Went in to the park around sun-up hoping for a wave of birds on the southwest winds, but was disappointed. No warblers and just the same birds as in recent days with the exception of a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows on the way out a bit before 9:00 am, but these were not new for the year. Did see the area of yesterday's fire - basically it burned over the leave litter in a small area not far from the Henry Hudson Bridge tolls.

                                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo

The Shadblow/Serviceberry trees are coming into bloom now.

Shadblow/Serviceberry                                                                           © Joseph DiCostanzo

Shadblow/Serviceberry                                                                                             © Joseph DiCostanzo          

Monday, April 21, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 21 - afternoon brush fire

Walking home from the 207th Street A train stop I couldn't help but notice several helicopters hovering overhead. As I walked past the baseball fields along Seaman Ave I spotted the smoke rising from the north end of the ridge not far from the bridge toll booths. Coming down Indian Road, I could see flames from the brush fire. After dropping stuff at home, Ann and i went back out to investigate. By that time the NYC Fire Dept. was clearly engaged in a minor mopping up operation. There was a brief flare-up in the leaf litter that was quickly put out by a fireman with a carried extinguisher. We could see water being sprayed from a hose higher on the ridge to wet down smoldering areas.

                                                                                                                     © Joseph DiCostanzo

                                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo

                                                                                                           © Joseph DiCostanzo

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 21 - blooms and few birds

Another beautiful, but cool morning in the park. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s with crystal clear blue skies when I went into the park around 7:30 am. A lot of the resident birds were calling: Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, etc. Eastern Phoebes and White-throated Sparrows were also calling - phoebes have nested, but not usually. I could not find any warblers, but did come across a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a calling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Among the plants, there was my first Dandelion flower of the season up on the valley overlook.

Dandelion                                                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo

The Forsythia is now in full bloom all over the park.

Forsythia                                                                                © Joseph DiCostanzo

The forecast is for warming temperatures and southwest winds tonight. Maybe tomorrow will produce the first real wave morning of the spring.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 20 - Cool and quiet

Went out this morning from a little before 8:00 until 10:30 am. It was cool and quiet with a northeast breeze. Did not encounter any warblers. White-throated Sparrow numbers are down but there were still a few Eastern Phoebes calling. It is supposed to warm up over the next few days, so fingers are crossed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 19 - Prairie Warbler, Savannah Sparrow and others

A really beautiful morning in the park. Went in from 8:30 - 11:00, then home to go to the Farmer's Market with Ann and then another short afternoon walk. On the way in at 8:30, one of the first birds was a Great Blue Heron flying north over the ridge as seen from the soccer fields. Heading up the Clove there was a bright yellow Palm Warbler near the Indian Caves. Five days ago (Apr 14) I came across the first blooms of Cowslip/Marsh Marigold [UPDATE: probably actually Lesser Celendine] I had seen this spring. Today they seemed to be everywhere, with seemingly even more out in the afternoon than in the morning.

Lesser Celendine ?                                                                        © Joseph DiCostanzo

Eastern Phoebes and Carolina Wrens called from various places in the Clove. The ridge was fairly quiet except for four species of woodpeckers: Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Northern Flicker. As I came down the road from the Henry Hudson Bridge, just above the soccer fields I heard a Prairie Warbler sing and then spotted it off the road below me. Others have seen Prairies this spring, but this was my first of the year. It has always been one of my favorites and its distinctive rising song I think was the first warbler song I have learned when I was a beginning birder.

Prairie Warbler (male)                                                                                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo

Crossing the soccer field there was a group of five Brown-headed Cowbirds (males and females) and a sparrow flew up and over to the top of the fence around the small wet area at the north side of the field. Checking it in my binoculars I saw it was my first Savannah Sparrow of the year - two year birds in just a few minutes as I was heading out.

Savannah Sparrow                                                                               © Joseph DiCostanzo

When Ann and I came back in after lunch, unfortunately we could not refind the Prairie Warbler, but we did see a Palm Warbler up on the ridge. On the ridge we saw two Mourning Cloak butterflies and coming back down the Clove we enjoyed a very cooperative male Spring Azure. (I believe it was a male based on the bright blue upper wings which you cannot see in the photo.)

Spring Azure                                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo

Finally, crossing the soccer fields, I did not see the Savannah Sparrow, but there were a couple of singing Chipping Sparrows.

Chipping Sparrow                                                                                      © Joseph DiCostanzo

I can't wait to see what tomorrow morning may bring. It is the time of year when every day is a surprise.

[UPDATE: The Prairie Warbler and Savannah Sparrow were my 76th and 77th species for Inwood for the year.]

Friday, April 18, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 18 - still cool with few migrants

Went for a short walk in Inwood this morning before heading downtown. It was cool and the last few days of cold weather seems to have brought bird migration here to a virtual standstill. Did not see a single warbler. I did come across a couple of Eastern Phoebes and a single male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher up on the ridge. White-throated Sparrows are still singing throughout the park.

The cool weather has not discouraged the Dutchman's-breeches wildflowers which look to be near their peak all through the Clove.Many more Periwinkles are out. Coming down from the Henry Hudson Bridge I came across the first cherry starting to bloom.

                                                                                                       © Joseph DiCostanzo

The winds do not look favorable for much of a flight tonight, the birds have got to come through sometime. Maybe tomorrow will be better than today.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Central Park - Apr 17 - a little warmer, but still cold

OK, it was warmer for my Thursday AMNH bird walk, but it was still cold. At least the ground wasn't covered with all that frozen white stuff - compare today's view below with yesterday's.

Edge of Tupelo Meadow                                                                            © Joseph DiCostanzo

As with yesterday, we had beautiful blue skies with a similar bird list, but definitely a few differences. We only had one warbler species (vs. two yesterday), but it was a different one - a lovely, bright yellow Pine Warbler. Other highlights included a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, the bright male Baltimore Oriole (singing a bit) that has wintered at the feeders and an American Robin building a nest.

American Robin building a nest                                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo

Our total list was 25 species:

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - approx. 25 on the Lake
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  - east side of Upper Lobe
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 2, west of the Point and east of the Tupelo
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - singing male east side of Upper Lobe
American Robin
European Starling
Pine Warbler - 1, between the Point and the Bow Bridge
Chipping Sparrow - 2, at feeders
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird - male at feeders
Baltimore Oriole - male at Feeders
American Goldfinch - at least six at feeders, others calling nearby
House Sparrow

Lots of the trees, shrubs and flowers are now starting to bloom. I was asked about one pretty white flower that was on the side of the road east of the Upper Lobe. It was thought to be one of the anemones. I took some pictures and based on a quick look at a wildflower guide in the office, I would say the rounded leaflets identify it as a Rue Anemone.

Rue Anemone                                                                                                                    © Joseph DiCostanzo

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Central Park - Apr 16 - COLD!

It was an extremely pretty morning in the Ramble for my AMNH bird walk this morning, but it was perhaps the coldest morning walk I have led in the nearly twenty years I have been doing the Central Park walks for the Museum. In addition to the temperature being below freezing (about thirty), there was also snow and ice on the ground from last night's weather.

edge of Tupelo Meadow                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo

Despite the cold, we were able to find a few spring birds. Our total list was 30 species. We have Evelyn Huang to thank for our only warblers which she spotted on the south side of the Bow Bridge as we walked west from the Point. A few of the group had seen a Palm Warbler earlier from the Point, but most of us missed that one. The full list is below.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - approx. 25 on the Lake
Great Egret - one, flying south
Red-tailed Hawk - on the San Remo
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - male west of the Point
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker - several
Blue Jay
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - one on the Point
Golden-crowned Kinglet - one by the Oven
Hermit Thrush - one
American Robin
European Starling
Palm Warbler - one or two depending on whether the first one seen from the Point was
                    the same one at the south end of the Bow Bridge
Yellow-rumped Warbler - one south end of Bow Bridge
Chipping Sparrow - Maintenance Meadow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole - dull male that has been at the feeders this winter
House Finch - at the feeders
American Goldfinch - at the feeders
House Sparrow

I am keeping my fingers crossed for the return of spring.

[UPDATE: I noticed in the afternoon that I had left off the flyover Great Egret. I have added it above increasing our total to 30.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 14 - more flowers and butterflies, less birds

Went into Inwood early hoping for an early wave of migrants on the warm, southerly winds, but was disappointed. There seemed to be even fewer birds around than yesterday with the only warbler I could find being a somewhat dull Palm Warbler. I did encounter Nadir Souirgi and James Knox again at the meadow overlook, where they also thought things were quieter than yesterday. The only thing of note we saw there was a very distant Common Loon flying north over the Palisades, though I think Nadir said he had earlier seen one going over Inwood. Nadir and James later called me about a singing Northern Parula they found on the ridge near the top of the Clove road, but it could not be found when I came back for it.

Flowers, however, continue to increase with many more Dutchman's-breeches and Periwinkles in bloom than yesterday. I also came across a small patch of Cowslip/Marsh Marigolds in bloom. [UPDATE: I now think this is probably the very similar Lesser Celendine.]

Lesser Celendine ?                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo

While unsuccessfully searching for the parula I did spot my first Cabbage White butterfly of the season, a female based on the two spots on its forewing.

Cabbage White (female)                                    © Joseph DiCostanzo

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 12 & 13 - plants, butterflies and birds

This is the time of year when every day is not only different but can bring big changes from one day to the next. That was certainly true this weekend. I went into Inwood yesterday morning with Gina Goldstein and again this morning on my own, but ran into Nadir Souirgi and James Knox at the meadow overlook. Neither day was as birdy as Friday, the 11th, but there were birds around. Before getting to the birds, however, I want to note the rapid changes in the plants over the two days. For some days now i have been watching for the Dutchman's-breeches to start blooming. Yesterday, I still saw no flowers. Today, however, after a few days of warm weather I saw a number of patches of them in full bloom!

Dutchman's-breeches                                                    © Joseph DiCostanzo

I also have been watching for the blooming of the Forsythia. It has been out in Central Park for some days now, but here in "upstate" Manhattan, I did not see any until yesterday, when I noticed one shrub in bloom. Today, however, the Forsythia seemed to be out all over the ridge!

Forsythia                                                                   © Joseph DiCostanzo

Another flower that seemed to be in bloom everywhere I looked today was the Periwinkle. I had not been watching for its pretty, purple flowers as much as I had been the previous two, but I don't see how I could have missed them yesterday in all the places I saw them today.

Periwinkle                                                               © Joseph DiCostanzo

In the non-botanical realm, Mourning Cloaks were obvious on both days. On Saturday, there was even one fluttering by the edge of the baseball fields as Ann and I came back from the farmer's market. Today they were obvious up on the ridge and in the afternoon two were chasing each other north of the ridge meadow.
Mourning Cloak                                                    © Joseph DiCostanzo

This morning also produced the second butterfly of the spring when a Spring Azure dashed by James, Nadir and myself as we watched the Hudson from the meadow overlook.

Saturday and Sunday also brought new avian arrivals, though overall Friday morning was a bit busier. Yesterday, Gina spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher up on the ridge and we later saw what I assume was a second one west of the Henry Hudson Bridge where there was also a bright yellow Pine Warbler. As Gina and I were leaving the park a Killdeer flew over the soccer fields calling and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow flew over the Muscota Marsh area; later in the day I spotted a few more Rough-wings from my apartment window. This morning Nadir spotted a Barn Swallow overhead for the first I have heard of in the park this year. While James, Nadir and I watched from the overlook there were a number of migrant flocks of Double-crested Cormorants flying north. Before I arrived, James and Nadir had been lucky enough to see a breeding plumaged Great Cormorant flying up-river. Also from the overlook we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk, an American Kestrel, and a Great Egret headed north; in the afternoon a Great Egret flew east past Muscota Marsh. My own bird list for the two days totaled 45 species and besides the birds mentioned included a lingering female Red-breasted Merganser in the shallows north of the soccer field Sunday afternoon, Hermit Thrush, both kinglets, Palm Warbler and Chipping Sparrow. Another sign of the progressing migration is the arrival of female migrants. I have been seeing Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the park for a few weeks, but Saturday morning had the first female. In many migrant species, the males move earlier than the females so that they can get to the breeding areas and set up territories before their potential mates arrive.

Finally, as I was leaving the park after an afternoon walk today, I spotted a group of apparent space aliens on the north side of the soccer field. I don't know whether to class them as migrants or accidentals.

                                                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo

Friday, April 11, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 11 - warblers, finally!

OK, there were only a few, but they are here at last. I will get to them shortly.

It was a warm, if mostly overcast morning in the park. I hoped the south winds might finally have brought in the first real group of migrants. In the fenced-in area at the north end of the soccer field there was a Swamp Sparrow, but that has been there most days for over a week now. Walking across the soccer field I spotted a group of female Red-winged Blackbirds on the grass at the south side. They are the first female Red-wings I have seen in the park this spring. they were joined in a minute by three Brown-headed Cowbirds. Heading up the valley (Clove), I heard and saw the usual Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and White-throated Sparrows. Near the glacial potholes a small movement in the underbrush caught my eye - as I guessed, it was my first Winter Wren of the year. As I got to the top of the valley road, a raptor flew into a tree to the east. It looked a bit "floppy" in flight and when I checked it with my binoculars I discovered it was a Peregrine Falcon that had just caught a pigeon. The capture had clearly just happened since the pigeon was still actively struggling. That didn't last long as the Peregrine settled down to breakfast. The poor light and my desire not to disturb the falcon's repast did not lead to a very good photo.

Peregrine eating pigeon                                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo
Along the ridge top there is increasing amounts of green on the ground and in the middle levels as many shrubs are now sprouting.

                                                                                                                                                       © Joseph DiCostanzo
North of the northern pine grove in the center of the ridge was where I finally encountered the warblers. There were at least two Yellow-rumped Warblers, a couple of Pine Warblers and several Palm Warblers. Most of the Palms were the bright yellow race that predominates in the spring, in contrast to the duller "Western" Palms we often get in the fall.

Palm Warbler                                                                                                                        © Joseph DiCostanzo
I encountered more Palms and Pines as I continued north along the ridge and there was a scattering of Palms just above the soccer field as I came down from the north end of the ridge.

In the Spuyten Duyvil area west of the Henry Hudson Bridge there was a lingering lone female Red-breasted Merganser. In the end I totaled 42 species on my walk with the last being a male Belted Kingfisher on my way out of the park near 218th Street.

There were also two nice non-avian finds. The first surprised me. On the slope west of the Henry Hudson Bridge there was an Eastern Chipmunk. Maybe, I have just overlooked them, or maybe my memory is off, but I don't remember seeing one in the park in years.

Eastern Chipmunk, Inwood Hill Park, 04-11-2014                                                            © Joseph DiCostanzo
My other non-avian find was totally expected - three Mourning Cloak butterflies around the edge of the soccer fields.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Central Park - Apr 10 - Wilson's Snipe & migrants

A beautiful morning in the Ramble for my American Museum of Natural History bird walk. It was warmer than yesterday. We found a total of 32 species.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - 30, most on Lake, some on Turtle Pond
Bufflehead - 4, one pair each on the Lake and Turtle Pond
Double-crested Cormorant - 4, The Lake and Turtle Pond
Red-tailed Hawk - bird flying around the San Remo as yesterday; also one perched in the Ramble
Wilson's Snipe - 1, on the Point
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - various locations in the Ramble
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker - several
Eastern Phoebe - at least; 10, seemed to be everywhere
Blue Jay
Brown Creeper - by Upper Lobe bridge
Golden-crowned Kinglet - small numbers scattered around
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - small numbers scattered around
American Robin
European Starling
Louisiana Waterthrush - 1, on water's edge, base of sloping rock ne of Balcony Bridge
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 2, dull individuals - probably females
Fox Sparrow - 2, well west of Azalea Pond
White-throated Sparrow - singing all over the Ramble
Dark-eyed Junco - mainly by the feeders
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird - pair, well west of Azalea Pond
Baltimore Oriole - chasing a Blue Jay, well west of Azalea Pond
House Finch - feeders
American Goldfinch - feeders and scattered around Ramble, some singing
House Sparrow

The snipe was the first I have seen anywhere this year.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Central Park - Apr 9 - beautiful, but cool morning

Led my Museum walk through the Ramble from 7 - 9 AM. Beautiful morning, without a cloud in the sky, but still a bit on the cool side. We found a total of 33 species.

Canada Goose
Northern Shoveler - down from last week, but still about 20 - 25 between the Lake and Turtle Pond
Double-crested Cormorant - 2, on Lake
Red-tailed Hawk - 2, still engaged in nest building activity on the San Remo, but seemed to shifted their
                focus to the south tower from the north tower last week
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 3, various locations
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker - at least 5 around the Ramble
Eastern Phoebe - 2
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee - 1, at feeders
Brown Creeper - 1, at feeders
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 1, south side Turtle Pond
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 2
Hermit Thrush - 2
American Robin
European Starling
Louisiana Waterthrush - 1, Indian Cave; my first of the year
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1, south side Maintenance Meadow
Chipping Sparrow - 1, feeders; my first of the year
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow - 1, above Shakespeare garden
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco - feeders
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird - Turtle Pond
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch - mainly at feeders, but also in various spots in the Ramble; some singing
House Sparrow

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 8 - Palm Warbler and Osprey

Worked at home today, but went for a quick walk in the mid afternoon in Inwood with Ann to exercise her knee. We were rewarded with our first of the year Palm Warbler - a bright yellow, singing male on the slope west of the Henry Hudson Bridge, overlooking the railroad bridge. We also saw some Eastern Phoebes. We heard from other birders about Golden-crowned Kinglets, which have been in for a few days and a Pine Warbler seen at the southern end of the ridge. There was still one female Red-breasted Merganser in the shallow water north of the soccer field.

When we first started out, I was surprised to see three adult Red-tailed Hawks go over the new Muscota Marsh area, north to south. I assume at least two of them, if not all three, were migrants since our resident Red-tail is on a nest. After we got home, I spotted an Osprey circling overhead from our apartment window.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Van Cortlandt Park - Apr 6 - signs of spring

Ann and I went up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to exercise her knee and to look for signs of spring. Ann has been wanting to see her first Mourning Cloak butterfly of the spring and since I had seen one at Van Cortlandt on March 22, it seemed like a good place to look for one. We were rewarded with two very cooperative individuals, the first not long after we parked our car by the golf course and headed up the bike trail.

Mourning Cloak                                                                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo
On the west side of the marsh, near the edge of the parade grounds we found another sign of early spring we had been hoping for - Skunk Cabbage.

Skunk Cabbage                                                                                                       © Joseph DiCostanzo
Being birders, we of course were also looking for avian spring arrivals and were not disappointed on that front either. There were lots of Eastern Phoebes around and though I have not seen any swallows yet at Inwood Hill Park I did spot single Tree and Northern Rough-winged swallows over the marsh here. There was also spotted a lone Rusty Blackbird skulking in the dense vegetation by the bridge crossing the south end of the marsh by the golf course.

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 6 - Red-necked Grebe

On my morning walk through the park the best bird was the last one. I was headed out of the park at the West 218 Street entrance when I stopped to scan the canal off the new Muscota Marsh area as I always do. All this winter I have been hoping for a Red-necked Grebe here since there have been virtually unprecedented numbers of them in the New York City region. Now there one was in the channel. I was momentarily torn between running upstairs to try to add the bird to my apartment list and doing the more responsible thing of heading out towards the Columbia dock to try to get a picture to document the record. It only took a few seconds, but responsibility won and I quickly headed down the ramp of the new Muscota Marsh area and out to the gate that restricts access to the dock. I was greatly disappointed that when I got there I could not see the grebe anywhere! I scanned up and down the channel and across the channel repeatedly. I kept looking back and forth since I know Red-necks can dive for long periods and I thought it could have drifted off in the few moments it took for me to get to the dock from the street. I finally gave up and even though I was sure about what I had seen I resigned myself to being extra cautious and not adding the grebe to my list. As I turned away to head home I saw one of the tourist cruise boats heading east towards me from the direction of the Hudson River. I decided to watch until the boat had passed east towards the Harlem River, just in case it disturbed something on the water. The decision paid off. I don't know where the grebe was since I did not see it take off, but suddenly there it was, flying low over the water westward along the canal towards the Hudson. I could easily see the birds white cheek and dirty looking long neck and trailing feet. The white secondaries on the trailing edge of the wings was very prominent. I lost sight of the bird behind the peninsula of land to the west that contains the Little League baseball field currently under reconstruction. Hoping the bird might have landed again before setting to the river I quickly headed that way. Along the wall overlooking the marsh I encountered another birder. I told her about the grebe and she followed me out to the peninsula to look for it. When we got to the far end of the point of land we could find no sign of the bird. It probably continued on to the river. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a picture of the Red-necked Grebe, but this may have been a first record for Inwood Hill Park. It was my 195th species for the park.

The woods along the Clove and up on the ridge were nowhere near as exciting as the end of my morning walk. Bird activity is starting to pick up though. There were a number of Eastern Phoebes around, particularly toward the north end of the ridge. I also had my first Golden-crowned Kinglets for the year in the park (species #61) and a couple of Hermit Thrushes in the Clove. I encountered all five of our regular woodpeckers: Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Inwood Hill Park - Apr 5 - mixed signals

It rained overnight, but started clearing around sun-up. It was still cool with temperatures in the mid to upper 40s, but with a stiff WNW wind. There were definite signs of spring, but also lingering traces of winter. The biggest winter holdover were the five White-winged Scoters on the Hudson River west of the railroad bridge over Spuyten Duyvil. It will be exactly one month tomorrow since I first saw a male White-winged fly past my apartment window. Other traces of winter was a lone Dark-eyed Junco on the north side of the soccer fields and numbers of White-throated Sparrows in the woods. A lot of the White-throats are singing now and their numbers actually may not peak in the park for another week or two as others who wintered further south pass through on their way to more northern breeding grounds.

In contrast, there were finally unmistakable signs of spring. A Red Maple just in from 218th Street and Indian Road is now in bloom.

Red Maple                                                         © Joseph DiCostanzo

And the buds on some bushes and vines in the woods are swelling and bursting open.

                                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo

But the most obvious sign that April and spring are finally here was the blooming of the daffodils. Most have not opened their flowers yet, but in a few warm, sheltered spots that catch the morning sun, the flowers are out.

daffodils and fly                                                      © Joseph Dicostanzo
I can't end without mentioning some more birds. There was an Eastern Phoebe near the upper end of the Clove trail. One of the nicest sightings was along the ridge. I saw a medium-sized woodpecker fly to the right side of a tree trunk ahead of me and another woodpecker of about the same size fly in to land on the left side of the same tree. My thought was Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, particularly since they seem to often move in pairs or small groups. But, when I raised my binoculars I found I was looking at a male Hairy Woodpecker on the right and a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the left. Naturally, they did not stick around to have their picture taken. Though the woodpeckers were uncooperative, I can't end without a bird picture so here are two Mourning Doves from the Clove.

Mourning Doves                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo

[AFTERNOON UPDATE: In the afternoon when Ann and I walked around the soccer field, there was a female Red-breasted Merganser in the shallow bay - another holdover from the winter.