Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Birding with baby and toddler- wear them!

We don’t use a stroller, although I could see a stroller working in some birding situations. Instead, we use baby carriers. Cloth wraps worked when baby was light and small, and we switched to baby carriers with back support and strong straps as baby grew into toddler.

Wearing our baby allowed us to walk trails that a stroller would struggle with. It also allows hands-free walking for pulling binoculars to our eyes.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Birding with baby and toddler

In 2015, I started my most exciting bird adventure. My wife and I had our own little baby bird. Actually a little human, but you get the idea.

We first took out baby within 2 weeks of her birth. In her first year, she visited city parks, two state parks, and a national wildlife refuge. I am sure people thought we are crazy, but being birders, they already thought such things of us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Laundry Birding

It’s a maintenance day- “adulting” as it’s come to be called. Instead of walking the trails and scanning the treetops, I am washing shirts, pants, and socks.

It’s laundry time. But that won’t stop me from spotting a few birds. Before each quarter goes in the machine, I scan it for birds.

What did I see today?

Roseate Spoonbill (left) and Anhinga (right)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

#birdbx has arrived!

Birders in the Bronx are getting a new resource for sharing birds: the Twitter feed @Birdbronx and #birdbx.

Another birder and I tried tweeting in 2016 and early 2017 with the hasthtag #bronxbird, but it didn't catch on (you can search Twitter with that hashtag- Cackling Goose, Eastern Meadowlark, Cattle Egret were some of the birds we shared). In Manhattan, there is a Twitter account that automatically retweets tweets with #birdcp; the Bronx did not have such a thing. Thus, people could follow the Manhattan account and could see the tweets about birds in Manhattan. For people who bird the Bronx, this was not an option unless searched for the hashtag #bronxbird. There were still plenty of other ways to share news of a good bird sighting (word of mouth if you encounter another birder, posting to the state email listserve, texting/calling a friend, or seeing an eBird checklist). But Twitter is so fast and easy and now this option is available for the Bronx!

Here is how it works: https://bigmanhattanyear.com/bronx.

Here is the Twitter page: https://twitter.com/BirdBronx. "Real-time rare bird observations and birding news for the Bronx. Followed users can issue alerts by tweeting with #birdbx."

Looking forward to finding fun birds and sharing them #birdbx!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Birding is chancy!

Birding is chancy.

When I take a second loop around a trail or make a repeat pass at a spot visited earlier, it amazes me the things that I saw the first time that I did not see the second time (sometimes the second pass is better, and I feel lucky to have repeated my steps).

Birding is just like that. To connect with a bird, you have to be going in a direction that puts you in the path of a bird. Slightly different trajectories could cause the connection to be missed. For all the sightings I do make, there are probably many more that do not happen because a difference of a few feet of distance, a timing off by a few seconds or minutes, or a noise that calls my attention to the left but distracts me from the right. That birding is chancy is not a principle of birding that I stick by, but more a key understanding of how birding, and perhaps life, works.

I have been deepening this understanding since I started looking at birds, and even using that phrase, "birding is chancy," for years. Two recent experiences from the last couple weeks in the Bronx demonstrate the understanding perfectly.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Raptors and Dickcissel near the landfill in Pelham Bay Park


I birded the southern zone of Pelham Bay Park in Bronx County, New York, today (October 1, 2017). Near the southwestern edge of the landfill, there is a brushy area between the landfill and Eastchester Bay. A Dickcissel popped up briefly and then landed on the fence that blocks off access to the bay. I was not able find this bird again despite being in the general vicinity for the next 4 hours. I got some poor photos that are on the eBird list linked below.

Dickcissel, out of normal range! Sure, on the Osage Plains of
the Midwest this is a common species, but not in NYC!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Shorebirds of the Bronx

Whimbrels in Turtle Cove, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx

In mid-July a couple Bronx birder friends and I were talking about we have never really had that much luck with shorebirds in the Bronx. There were several species that could be generally found at certain times in certain places, but the Bronx definitely seemed to be the least shorebirdy place in NYC.

That luck would change, due to some serious puddles, but also perhaps some increased attention at the right times.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

An Oak Tree Older than America

This Red Oak started growing in 1743. The United States of America was not yet a country, with its declaration of independence still decades away. The global human population was around 750 million individuals; we did not yet understand that many diseases were caused by microorganisms, that earth’s crustal plates move around over time, that species evolve over time, or that humans could move energy from one place to another through wires. In 1743, Passenger Pigeons flocked in the skies of Eastern North America and may have landed in this tree’s branches.

The sign declares the tree to be more than 275 years old. This sign may be a few years old too, so the tree actually started growing in the decade before 1743. Regardless of the exact years, it's long life is a blip- nearly nonexistent- in geologic time, but this tree’s life spans a significant set of chapters in our human story. We now have 7.5 billion humans on the planet and have made significant scientific discoveries that allow us to do all sorts of things and lead to even more discoveries. Passenger Pigeons are extinct, and we ponder the fate of many other species both locally and globally.

This tree resides on the land that we now call New York
Botanical Garden, Bronx County, New York, United States.
At the time of the tree's sprouting, it was in land of Westchester
County, part of the Province of New York, a British colony
 (you can see such labels on the 1776 and 1777 maps
available from the NY Public Library). 

And here this tree is, somehow still standing despite the vast majority of other old trees in the entire country being felled. Here it is providing shade and wonder to my family and food for insects and thus for birds.

It all started from an acorn, an acorn that is virtually identical to the Red Oak acorns you find today, and 275 years from now, the acorns of today could be trees that provide future humans, insects, and birds with shade, food, and wonder. What will our landscape, both cultural and ecological, look like in 2291?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Birds from another dimension!

Can you figure out what species of birds these are now that their colors are all changed?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rock Pigeons of the World

Looking out from the Empire State Building, 
New York, NY, USA

The Rock Pigeon may just rule the world. Don't believe me?

On the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel

Monday, July 31, 2017

Watching the tide herons

Call them the tide-herons.

After hearing from a local resident who mentioned he had seen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in his own little patch in an out-of-the-way park on the East River, I began thinking Clason Point Park or Soundview Park might be the lone or one of the few Bronx spots to potentially see the species. I know very little of this species beyond identification, so my guesses as to when to see it centered on "anything is possible during migration" or the possibility that they nested locally.

In scanning information about their behavior, I found the following clue on Cornell University Lab of Ornithology Allaboutbirds.org to help me narrow it down:

"Yellow-crowned night-herons forage both during the day and the night - in coastal areas the tide can trump the time of day: most foraging occurs from 3 hours before high tide to 3 hours after."

High tide near the mouth of the Bronx River

Low tide near the mouth of the Bronx River

Limited to pretty much weekends and public transit, and with a fellow bird watcher who has unique requirements, following the tides is bit a of a challenge. Nonetheless, the chance at seeing this species would be worth the multiple buses it would take to get there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Birding the Bronx River at New York Botanical Garden

Wood Ducks benefit from the habitat conserved at New York 
Botanical Garden (NYBG). This species breeds in tree cavities
near water, two qualifications which can be found in the forest
at NYBG. 

Although birds can be found throughout the garden (and some
species, such as Red-breasted Nuthatches might be more likely
around certain plant collections, like conifers), most of my
favorite spots are shown on this map. The Thain Family Forest
contains roughly four short trails that are worth hours of
combing for both birds and tranquility. The model wetland
can be accessed just outside the trail at the center of this map
(but not shown). Also not shown are the Twin Ponds, which
would be on the left side of the map, just outside the forest
and below the river. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Birding the Bronx River at the Bronx Zoo

The Bronz Zoo is a great place to see birds- and not just the species on exhibit!

A mother Wood Duck with her ducklings swims on the
Bronx River, on May 12, 2017, at the Bronx River,
seen from the Mitsubishi River Walk. Species like this

are able to breed and raise their young in the habitat
around the Bronx River.

Habitat along the Bronx River at the Bronx Zoo includes
remaining forest of Tulip Trees, oaks, and other native trees.
Other habitats include mudflats and some wetlands along the
river (and some in animal enclosures). While most species
just migrate through, there are species that breed here too.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Birding the Bronx River along Soundview Park

The mouth of the Bronx River, emptying into the East River, which is a tidal
straight between Long Island Sound and the Upper New York Bay.. 

Industry is still part of the Bronx River and this is in full view
at Soundview Park, but there are birds here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Birding the Bronx River Corridor

Looking downstream along the Bronx River, 
at New York Botanical Garden in June 2017

A sign at the Bronx Zoo (at the World of Birds) depicts 
an American Redstart and notes the ecological importance of the 
Bronx River for migratory birds. 

I saw an American Redstart chasing insects in a tree about 
50 feet from the sign pictured above, at the Bronx Zoo.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gray-cheeked Thrush or Bicknell's Thrush?

I spent most of the day on May 20, 2017, birding at New York Botanical Garden, in Bronx County, NY.

In addition to a good mix of warblers, I encountered four species of thrush. I was able to identify three of the species, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, and American Robin. I cannot identify the fourth because the potential species are reportedly not distinguishable by sight alone, per David Allen Sibley and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

When submitting the bird to eBird, the designation as "Gray-cheeked/Bicknell's Thrush Catharus minimus/bicknelli" was flagged as rare for this date and location.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Birding Crotona Park in the Bronx

Northern Waterthrush, Crotona Park, May 18, 2017

Previous to November 2016, there is no bird data on eBird for Crotona Park. Who knows what species were flitting among the treetops?

It came to my attention- and a couple of other birders- that this park has some interesting conditions that might make it a good place to bird watch.

The park has a variety of mature trees, especially oaks and black cherries, which support hordes of arthropods and might prove attractive to migrating birds  The current park staff have also planted many native trees, including many tuliptrees, which should bode well for the future of birds (and birding!) at this site.

A meadow in the northeast section of Crotona Park, Bronx, NY

As birds migrate along the Atlantic Flyway, they need spaces to stop. Central Park is a well-birded migrant trap; in Manhattan, the lack of space for birds to stop funnels them into concentrated areas like Central Park. Crotona Park is also a bright green spot in the lower half of the Bronx. The top half of the Bronx has much more green space in Van Cortlandt Park and Pelham Bay Park, both of which are hotspots for birds, but the spaces are large and birds can be diffuse. The Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden are north of Crotona and are also great for birds. However, below 180th Street, there is not much green space overall. St. Mary's Park or Fanz Sigel Park might also host birds; Soundview Park, east of Hunt's Point, could also have favorable bird conditions in the lower half of the Bronx, as there are many cotttonwood trees, some grassland, and a small marsh there.

With the combination of large, flowering trees and a surrounding of concrete and asphalt, Crotona Park proved to be an excellent place to observe migrating birds.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Crotona Park, May 17, 2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April roundup- Birding the Bronx (#bronxbird)

Northern Shovelers, Van Cortlandt Park, 4-8-2017

Red-winged Blackbird, Van Cortlandt Park, 4-15-2017

Blue-winged Teal, Van Cortlandt Park, 4-17-2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Appreciating the beauty of grackles

Snap, grackle, pop!

I know some people don’t like grackles. Of the 3 species in North America, they are all fairly common within their ranges. I don’t have feeders but apparently Common Grackles can be aggressive, which is why people often dislike them. They are also not always obviously bright and colorful.

But it all really depends on how you look at a thing.

Grackles are quite bright and colorful when our eyes, light, and their feathers align. Many colors of birds are due to pigments, actual substances in the feathers. Other colors are caused by the structure of the feathers, such as blues in Eastern Bluebirds or iridescence in grackles. Iridescence is not unique to birds, but here is how it works in the avian world:

“Iridescent colors are produced by differential reflection of wavelengths from highly modified barbules of the feathers that are rotated so that a flat surface faces the incoming light. The detailed structure of the barbule reflects some wavelengths and absorbs others, and the reflected wavelength changes with the angle of reflection. The structural color is registered by the eye in response to the reflected wavelengths and changes with the angle formed by the light, the reflecting surface, and the eye.” –Stanford University, Birds of Stanford, Essays, “The Color of Birds” https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Color_of_Birds.html 

Or more simply:

“Iridescent feathers appear black or dull one moment, then flash into glittering color as light hits them at just the right angle. The colors are produced as the feather’s microscopic structure reflects some colors while eliminating others.” –The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Academy Handbook Chapter 4 “Iridescence: and the Birds-of-Paradise”, https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/iridescence-and-the-birds-of-paradise (Watch the video!)

It all begs the question: Is a grackle still colorful when you aren’t looking at it?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Looking more closely at feathers

The Black Vulture above shows off the feathers that allow it to soar the skies. The feathers of the wings and tail are major reasons a bird can generate lift and thrust and also maneuver in shifting air currents. You can count the feathers- about 70- that make up the flight feathers.

And yet, according to Feathers by Thor Hanson, hummingbirds have around 1,000 feathers and swans have up to 25,000 (apparently mostly in the neck) (2011). Most birds have less than 10,000 feathers, with smaller birds having in the lower thousands (Wetmore 1936). Even if the Black Vulture above had only 1,000 feathers, its feathers primarily dedicated to flight represent less than 10% of the total. Although all feathers contribute to flight by streamlining the bird and reducing its weight relative to other substances, they do so much more.

Down feathers on a baby Chipping Sparrow.
A feathered dinosaur on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.
Although there is still much unknown, according to Hanson, it is generally
accepted by most scientists that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.
Additionally, fossil evidence points to feathers evolving earlier than
any known birds, which means that birds were not the only organisms
to have them (some non-avian theropod dinosaurs had them too).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

February birds at Van Cortlandt Park

A male Northern Cardinal splashes red and orange onto the browns of
dormant pants and the white of remaining snow.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

SuperB owl Party 2017

I celebrated the biggest game of the year by going birding, attending a SuperB owl walk in Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY. The score was three owls- a win for the birders!

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Museum of Modern Bird Art in New York City

New York City is full of art galleries and museums. While there is no official museum of modern bird art, all you need to do is explore the city's streets, subways, and parks to find diverse portrayals of the feathered kind. No fees required. Well, maybe a subway fare!

Owl statue (with obligatory Rock Pigeon) overlooking Herald Square,

One of many Audubon Mural Project paintings in Washington Heights
(formerly Audubon Park!), Manhattan