#478 Harlequin Duck

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

I don’t have a big story to go with this one. Although I whiffed on Harlequin Duck repeatedly at Point Lookout, and even broke my scope trying to find it there over the Thanksgiving break, once I got to Barnegat it was easy. Me and four other folks from the New York City Audubon Camera Club left Manhattan about 6:30 AM and arrived at Barnegat at 9:00 AM. We walked out to the end of the jetty, and there they were:

Oh and some Purple Sandpipers too:

#477 Lapland Longspur

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Sunday morning I got up bright and early–well, at least early; it was before dawn–to chase a couple of rarities that have showed up in Brooklyn. The rarest was the Common Gull that Shane Blodgett first found in Gravesend Bay a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen this bird before in Europe but never in the United States. A Mew Gull–the Pacific subspecies–showed up at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary while I was living in Irvine last year, but I was never able to find it. The other target was a Lapland Longspur that Rob Jett found on the cricket field at Floyd Bennett Field last Saturday.

I arrived at Bay 16th St. shortly after dawn, and walked across the pedestrian bridge over the Belt Parkway to the bike path that follows the curve of the bay. The temperature was several degrees below freezing and the wind off the bay, while not as bad as it sometimes is, certainly didn’t help matters. I was hoping to quickly find the bird on the grass along the bike path where it had been seen the previous day and several times earlier, but no such luck. A couple of dozen gulls were flying over the bay, but even if a Common Gull were one of them it would be extremely hard to distinguish in this light at that distance. The Common Gull is very similar to a Ring-billed Gull. It’s about an inch smaller and does not show an obvious ring around the bill. Also, the legs are gray instead of dirty yellow, the eye is black instead of yellow, and there is a little more white along the base of the mantle. Exactly none of these field marks are obvious on a flying bird 20 meters away.

I walked up and down along the path waiting for some gulls to come in closer where I might have a chance at picking out a Common Gull. I saw what looked like a couple of fairly large shorebirds fly up the rocks. Heading up the way they proved to be Purple Sandpipers, the closest I’ve ever seen. I had a great deal of trouble finding these a few years ago, and now here they were right in front of me. Unfortunately they weren’t the bird I was looking for today.

Roundish shorebird with purple tertials

I ran into a couple of other birders who had come to look for the gull, and showed them the Purples, and then we hunkered down to wait for the gull. Gulls flew in and out, but no Common Gull. I lasted another hour until about 8:30 when the cold just got too much for me. Since there didn’t seem to be a lot of action happening here, we traded cell phone numbers in case it showed up and I drove over to the end of Bay Parkway where the gull had first been spotted. It looked promising, especially when I realized there was someone from a bakery feeding a large box of stale bread to the rampant gull flock, but although there were numerous Ring-billed Gulls and not a few Rock Pigeons, that was all. The common gull was not to be found here either, at least not this morning.

Tagged Gull

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I’ve found neck banded Canada Geese before, and occasional leg bands on other species (though I’ve never been able to fully read those); but yesterday I saw my first wing tag on a Ring-billed Gull along Gravesend Bay:

wing tag A99 Red on Black on a Ring-billed Gull

I’ve reported it. I hope I can find out more about this bird. This was far from the most interesting gull on the bay yesterday though. More about that later.

Another Cold Day in Prospect Park

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

I spent a few hours in Prospect Park again this morning, mostly to try out the new Canon 400/f5.6L lens I’ve rented. The lens performed reasonably well, though the lack of image stabilization was a more serious impediment than I expected. I did get some nice shots, and 400 mm was really only too long for a few close gulls that were responding to chumming. Once again, the Park was extremely quiet aside from a few hotspots that featured relatively abundant food. The Vale of Cashmere had tufted titmouse, black capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Morning Dove, Blue Jay, White-throated Sparrow, but nothing unusual.

The feeders on Breeze Hill supported Red-winged Blackbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, and one Red-breasted Nuthatch. This is the only even remotely unusual bird I found. There haven’t been a lot of them in the park this season, and if there’s a good seed crop up north next winter, there might not be any. They’re an irruptive species. Some years they’re everywhere. Some years you have to struggle to find one or two in the county.

Canon 400mm f/5.6L

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Got a Canon 400mm f/5.6L from UPS today. I still have to take it out in the field, but despite the lack of image stabilization it’s possibly the sharpest lens I’ve tried:

5 dollars

This is handheld with flash but no tripod and wide open!

An Even Colder Day in Prospect Park

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

I got to the Audubon Center about a quarter till 10 this morning when the mercury was still several degrees short of zero for the monthly Audubon walk. It was extremely cold. We were only out for about an hour and a half before calling it a day. Mostly it was the same story as yesterday, relatively bird free except for a few hotspots around the feeders and the Upper Lullwater. Nevertheless we managed a respectable 26 species including six new year birds: Rusty Blackbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Fox Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, Red-tailed Hawk, and Wood Duck.

Rusty Blackbird was a particularly good find, because they’re not common in the park. The only place they’re reliably found in new York City is van Cortland Park in the Bronx. However, 1 to 4 have been hanging out in Prospect at least since the Christmas Bird Count on the 19th.