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” 

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”, (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