Sunday, October 23, 2016

My Dead List: Birding the Zombie Apocalypse

When the end hits, I'll be out bird watching.

Warblers did always crane the neck. This bird in particular, the Cerulean Warbler, makes its living high in the tree canopy, plucking tiny insects from the leaves. They weren't easy to see before it hit and I never had the luck of living that close to them. Now I’m thinking, if I'm going to get ripped apart and eaten anyway, I might as well start working on my dead list.

One of the benefits of tracking down birds is that you are paying attention to the sounds and movements- a twitch in the leaves to my left, a high pitched whistle from the branches above- and this has immediate benefits to staying alive. The downside is when you get a bird in your bins, especially a bird you're seeking, the trade off is alertness for enjoyment. It just take seconds to get bit or scratched and transform your world into a wrenching sickness followed by a fiendish search for human flesh. Sooner or later, I’m going down, but how many birds can I see before that unfortunate moment? That’s why I call it my dead list.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Birds on Coins!

As I was rummaging for coins to use at the laundromat, I noticed that a number of United States quarters feature birds. It was like birding in my change jar!

Kisatchie, Louisiana- Wild Turkey (left),
Louisiana Purchase- Brown Pelican (center), and
Bombay Hook, Delaware- Great Blue Heron (right)

South Carolina- Carolina Wren (left), and Minnesota- Common Loon (right)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Exploring the World of Birds at the Bronx Zoo

There aren't many ways to see a Congo Peacock, Maleo, and Helmeted Currasow in an afternoon. These birds live on different continents so it would be near impossible to get close with current technology, even if they were easy to find in the wild. They are not.

Maleo: the Bronx Zoo is reportedly the only place in the world where this
bird exists outside of the Sula Islands of Indonesia
Most birders don't seem to care for looking at birds in zoos. I find it a complement to the study of birds in the wild and birds in published material. It can be helpful to study the three-dimensional shapes and sizes of a wide variety of birds, even unfamiliar families, without the serious effort and expense of trekking around the globe.

Yes, there is a House Sparrow on the pathway there.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Birding with the Linnean Society on Staten Island

Coast along Staten Island at Great Kills Park

We started the morning at Great Kills Park. Highlights included Bonaparte's Gull, Black Scoter, Bank Swallows, Little Blue Heron, and Black Skimmer.

Complete bird list and photos from Great Kills Park:

Grassland in Staten Island at Mt. Loretto Unique Area

We finished the morning at Mt. Loretto Unique Area. Highlights included Black Vulture, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, an Eastern Kingbird feeding its young at a nest, and an Indigo Bunting.

Complete bird list and photos from Mt. Loretto Unique Area:

Find out more about the programs and field trips of the Linnean Society of New York at

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Lawrence's Warbler in Central Park

A hybrid bird, with genes from both Golden-winged Warbler 
and Blue-winged warbler. Photographed at the North End 
of Central Park, New York, NY on May 8, 2016.

Annie Di Gennaro, John Di Gennaro, and I were birding by the Loch in the North End of Central Park in New York, NY, at about 3:45PM. I heard a song that sounded like Blue-winged Warbler, but with only the second part of the Bee-Buzz song (just the Buzz). We looked for what we thought might be a Blue-winged for about fifteen minutes without turning one up. Then we spotted a warbler-sized bird we did not immediately recognize in an oak tree. The bird’s wings were grayish-blue with two clear white wing bars. Its underside was entirely yellow except the vent and under tail which were both white. We noted the bird’s head and face were also yellow, but it had a black throat patch and black eye mask. There were several birds in the same tree for close comparisons including Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Due to its similarities to both Blue-winged and Golden-winged, and given the buzz vocalization, the idea that it may be a hybrid came to mind. As Annie and John kept eyes on the bird, I checked a reference I found online (an article in Birding from May/June 2005). We verified the field marks and decided that we were seeing something worth sharing. We managed to get about ten birders on the bird. I borrowed a camera from a pair of birders that were present and took some pictures; they were kind enough to let me use the camera and then send me the pictures.

A hybrid bird, with genes from both Golden-winged Warbler 
and Blue-winged warbler. Photographed at the North End 
of Central Park, New York, NY on May 8, 2016.

After about 15 minutes we lost the bird, but a couple more birders showed up. We heard the bird only occasionally sing, and with effort, we were able to track it down, eventually finding it in the same oak tree. The bird was now higher up, but we still had clear views. Other birders showed up but as of 5:15PM the light was becoming less favorable at this spot, and we did not re-find the bird. I am not sure if it was found again after this time.

If anyone goes to try to look for it tomorrow, we had the bird just above the Loch walking path, where on the one side is an overlook of the “stream” and on the other side a wood chip path that leads to the wildflower meadow. While the bird was pretty much directly above the walking path, the best viewing seemed to be just up the path toward the wildflower meadow. It is not far from the rustic bridges, if that helps.

A hybrid bird, with genes from both Golden-winged Warbler 
and Blue-winged warbler. Photographed at the North End 
of Central Park, New York, NY on May 8, 2016.

Big thanks to the birders that allowed me to take the pictures! Such a fun day to be birding in Central Park!

This text was also shared on the NYSBirds-L list serve:;id=1183486.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hey, is that Harry Potter's Owl?

Harry Potter had quite the ally in Hedwig. Hermione once noted that Hedwig would draw a lot of attention if she was used too often to deliver notes to Sirius, as Snowy Owls are not native to Great Britain. In fact, it made the newspapers when three individual Snowy Owls showed up in 2009. UK Birders were no doubt thrilled, whether wizard or muggle.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Black Skimmer, summer citizen of New York

The Black Skimmer is a coastal bird species that breeds on/around sandy beaches, including in New York City at Breezy Point and potentially other spots in Rockaway. They also feed in and around Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Their lower mandible is actually longer if you look closely; they derive their name from this mandible and the associated feeding habit. They fly close to the surface of the water, drop the lower mandible into the water, and snap up small fish. If you ever see a bird near the coast skimming, there is a good chance you have found a Black Skimmer!