Thursday, February 12, 2009

early February wrap-up

Well, I ought to bang out an update before we head up to Saratoga Springs for a little winter getaway. Last weekend I went out a few times and saw some great things.

Last Friday I walked to work in the cold and took my time. I'd love to spend more time at the feeders than I do, but often another birder tromps in and flushes them all, and I don't have time to wait for them to come back. So this time I went over to the Boathouse and Binnen Bridge to check out the activity. The water was almost completely frozen over, with 25+ ducks crammed into the small area of open water. I watched them slap their flat feet on the ice and slip around for a while, and that cheered me up pretty well. I saw a raptor come in to perch in the tall naked tree by the bridge (displacing, of course, the little brown jobs, red guys, and squirrels that had been so diligently scratching at the ice to reach the scattered seed frozen below), so I made my way over to get a better look. Here's an excerpt from my notes.

-raptor over Boathouse lake, lands tree near Binnen Bridge. Small birds flee.
-slender birds, streaks of brown on throat +chest, creamy clear belly
-long, squared tail w/regular barring - no white tip
-seemed to move tail slightly while perched. face like RTH but much smaller overall. Tail may be notched.

When it flew away over the Boathouse, within seconds, all the small birds returned to the Binnen Bridge. I laughed to see such a collective yet non-emotional display of relief.

Later, in the Nethermead, I saw another raptor perched atop a bare tree. This time the light made it difficult to get good details, but here's what I've got.

-seems "puffed up" for warmth
-short tail relative to size
-very streaky (brown) all over front
-much smaller than RTH
-possible dark cheek patches

I didn't feel that these two raptors were the same bird or even really the same species. I circled toward the road to try to get better light, but the sky was overcast and the bird was mostly a dark dot. As I stood in the Center Drive near the steep path, trying to discern anything about the mysterious raptor, I saw movement and heard the flapping of large wings in a tree by the side of the road. All of a sudden, a red-tailed hawk, the source of the commotion, flew directly over my head, about 15 feet above me. I had an excellent view, of course. It landed on a low branch in the wooded area to the right of the steep path. I enjoyed its show but didn't want to be distracted, lest the unknown treetop bird make a move without my capturing new details. I fixed my sights once again on the dark dot, hoping for some new sign, only to be sidetracked by yet another majestic red-tail making right for me.
This one landed on a branch directly overhead. I know it's "uncool" or whatever to anthropomorphize birds once you're a birder, but it would be against my nature to stop now, and I really like my nature. So all I'm saying is this: it made me laugh to see the hawks, which make up 90% of my raptor experience because they're big and easy to find, scrambling for attention the second I finally see something unfamiliar.

Saturday I packed a picnic (which we ended up eating in the warmth of the car) and we ventured out to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The gravel path was slushy and muddy and it made me glad I wore my waterproof hikers. The West Pond was frozen over, dotted only with gulls and goose poop. The birds were just not there. I think everybody was over on the East Pond, which looked unfrozen as we pulled out of the driveway to continue our day's adventures. I did see a few fine specimens, however, including one bufflehead, some mallards and American black ducks, a male common merganser, a robin, a crow, a cardinal, and to top it all off, a yellow-rumped warbler. It wasn't the best Jamaica day, but we always make a few winter trips there, and that makes me appreciate the other seasons of birding there all the more.

Sunday is usually projects-at-home day, and after our four loads of laundry were done but before we got too involved in our personal interests, Chrissy and I took a walk in Prospect Park. We followed much the same path as our last walk - up the west side of the lake(ducks, geese, gulls), past the feeders(downies, house finches, titmice, chickadees), to the Boathouse(ducks), and through the Nethermead(nothing!). This time we cut over Lookout Hill to make our way home. Climbing the road, we came upon a small group looking intently up into a tree. I paused to see what had attracted their interest, and soon found myself rapt as well, by a pair of raccoons mating in the late-afternoon light. I won't go into a lot of detail, but I will say it was interesting to see how much dominating the male had to do to get the female to submit and stay still. Just in time for Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Brooklyn Heights

I fully intended to go on the first-Sunday bird walk yesterday. I got up, had breakfast, took a shower, and had plenty of time to get dressed and get to the Boathouse before 10:00, but something happened. The bed monster got me. I have no regrets, though. I really needed the extra rest, and I still had a Puppy Bowl party to prepare for and throw. Who can resist a Sunday morning snuggle? Not I, dear reader, not I!

But I did have time before the Puppy Bowl to head down to the Brooklyn Heights Esplanade with my binoculars, at the recommendation of A Brooklyn Bachelor, to look for kestrels. The air was just starting to warm up and I still had no idea what a gorgeous day it would turn out to be. The constant breeze from the cars below made my eyes water profusely, but I got used to it after a few minutes and was able to enjoy my time there. I checked out the likely perches, but nobody was home. I did, however, see a bunch of bufflehead drakes and one hen, all separately dotting the river, tiny patches of bright white bobbing and diving in the wakes of passing boats. Add to that a small raft of ruddy ducks, lots of American black ducks sunning on the docks, many gulls, and a few cormorants. I tried to get a good view of this one silvery grebe-like bird, but it was just too far away to identify. It had a pointy longish bill, and was darker above than below, but I could not tell where the dark began and ended in the bright midday sun. Soon it was time for lunch at Vegetarian Ginger, my favorite place to eat tofu and seitan, and party preparations. Everything that followed was wonderful and fun. I'd say yesterday had a mix of everything I like - snuggling, birds, good food, and fun with friends. I hope everybody gets to have a day like that!