Posts Tagged 'birding'

Loon Lost

Gavia immerA Common Loon (Gavia immer) dead on the rocks at Bush Terminal Park. Gavia immerPaul Sweet, of the American Museum of Natural History, was there and showed us the prominent ridge of the sternum, which should have been smothered in fat and muscle. This suggested to him that this fish-devouring diver probably starved to death. Sometimes they swallow fishing tackle and other human detritus that prevents then from getting any food down. It’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on a fisherman. (Nah, just a slow tightening of monofilament around the wrists until the hands fall off.)

[Update: Paul sent me this link for more information about loon mortality.]

In Scotland some years ago, excitement among my British van mates gathered as they discussed seeing a Great Northern Diver. What is that, I asked? Turned out to be “our” Common Loon, which, I think you’ll agree, is a lesser name.

I remember first hearing the haunting calls of these birds as a boy in Ontario. They don’t nest around NYC, so I hadn’t heard one in a while, but a few years ago in Lewis Bay, on Cape Cod (where they don’t nest either, as far as I know), I saw and heard one. It sent shivers up my spine.

Loons are winter visitors to our waters. We should treat them better. This is the first I’ve seen this year.

Ravens, Still

I haven’t been getting out and about as much as I’d like. In the last month or so, I’d only seen Ravens twice. Two separate instances of a single bird.

They aren’t always together, but the Bush Terminal birds are usually seen in some kind of airborne proximity. These birds work together well in pairs and through the year. As you may know, they are very social animals. And nesting season is not too far away.

So, I was a little worried. Could one of them have been defeated by the city? But I shouldn’t worry based on limited intelligence. These birds have proved themselves survivors in an unlikely environment. On Saturday, I saw a report of two Ravens at Bush Terminal. On Sunday I saw two there myself. They were distant, one perched with a beakful of food on one of the warehouses, the other flying north towards it.

If these are the same birds, and it surely seems like they are, with great fidelity to Brooklyn’s coast, this will be their second breeding year here. Go to it, great corvids! Onwards, o pioneers!

Now, it so happens I went specifically to BTP to see if I could see the Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) that has been flying back and forth from there to the 59th Street Pier recently. This is a large (smaller only than the Great Black-backed) pale species that lacks the typical black wingtips of other Larus gulls. Its wings are grayish, but of such paleness it looks like a ghostly white, especially this individual. Melville would like this white.  They’re birds of the far north who sometimes wander down to our latitudes and beyond. Glaucous is from the Greek for gleaming or silvery; Athena, who will make another appearance in a post this week , was Glaukopis, the bright-eyed one.

From the shore, I saw the bird bathing and then flying south. It’s worth looking for if you haven’t seen one: they seem to carry the misty air of the Arctic with them.


Day Hawk

AccipiterHello!AccipiterAn overcast day, but from a distance a shape in a tree along the edge of Sunset Park attracts the eye.AccipiterAccipiters aren’t known for perching long. This Cooper’s stuck around long enough for me to go inside and return with my camera. My lens is better than my eyes: the gory remains of lunch are still in the bird’s grip. It’s digesting. AccipiterHere’s some of the wing of the meal. Mourning Dove, perhaps? Cooper’s are primarily bird-hunters, and, as “forest hawks” use the cover of trees to surprise their prey (unlike Peregrines, who dive from above out in the open), but also eat small to medium sized rodents. AccipiterThe russet barring on the chest is of indicative a bird who is settling into maturity. The yellowish-orange irises should darken to red as the bird sees more years.

Night Hawk

What do birds do at night? It’s clearly a question people find intriguing.

But you probably already know the answer even if you don’t know much about birds. Most birds are diurnal, so like most of us they sleep at night. And like us, they usually tuck themselves away somewhere safe and sound. In the deep cold, some birds will even roost together for warmth, pressed together side-by-side. Here in the city, you may have experienced passing by an ivy-covered wall or a thicket of evergreen that is absolutely howling with bird sounds near sunset: these are House Sparrows getting ready to hit the hay. They’re aren’t necessarily all pressed together in a row i this case, but they are sharing the protection of the foliage, and the protection of the group: there are more alarms to sound should trouble brew.

A night roost of hundreds of crows is a pretty spectacular sight, or should I say sound? Even after they’ve had their discussions and debates, there’s rustle and bustle. We don’t get this in the city, but I’ve seen Common Grackle after Common Grackle slip into trees at the Plaza Hotel just south of Central Park at twilight.

But not all birds roost together at night. Most probably don’t. Hawks for instance. Why, you may ask, would a fierce hawk worry about being out of sight at night? Take a look at Julie Zickefoose’s post on finding a hawk foot in an owl pellet.
AccipiterNearly two weeks ago, birder friends who live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, told me about the Accipiter roosting in their backyard. It’s been there every night since. The bird arrives about half an hour after sunset and leaves more than an hour before sunrise. AccipiterSuave hosts, they had a few of us over for “cocktails and roost” the other night.

I believe this is a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). Within just a few minutes of its arrival it becomes really quite hard to see beyond a dark shape. The first shot above was taken with the “hand-held night shot” feature. The second was actually taken earlier, with the standard PhD (Push here, dummy) feature. The tree is bare, but drooping with seed pods: it’s a Catalpa.

The backyards of a rectangle of row houses are curious conglomerations of spaces, habitats, and trees. You’re apt to find someone who feeds the sparrows and pigeons and rats in such spaces. And where there are gatherings of birds, bird-eaters are sure to appear.

A correspondent recently sent me a picture of another Accipiter in her backyard, which is also in Park Slope. This one looked like a Sharp-shinned Hawk (A. striatus). It had some very white patches on its back, which should be distinguishing. The two Accipiter species are notoriously hard to differentiate. There’s a strong sexual dimorphism in both species: females are substantially bigger than males. So, while Sharpies are generally smaller birds, the female Sharpie is as big as the male Cooper’s. Male Sharpies, on the other hand, are quite small: the length range for them starts at 1″ more than a Blue Jay. Generally, Sharp-shinned Hawks prefer woodlands while the city mostly sees Cooper’s, but these are loose rules.AccipiterThe night is full.

Red-tailed Two

Buteo jamaicensisContinuing our primer from the other day, we now present a mature Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).Buteo jamaicensisCompared to that early sighting, this one look rather larger (even though it was higher up), making me think it was a female. Buteo jamaicensisPairs of hawks should be in the bonding and mating stage in the city now. There are a good number of Red-tails within NYC; it is a surprisingly common breeder in our parks; it’s also the species you’ll see perched along the edge of the interstate more often than not. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll see them every day. And it won’t necessarily just be in or over the big green spaces. Buteos are soaring hawks; their wide wings are particularly conducive to circling in rising air currents. I occasionally see them sweep-circling over Sunset Park’s flatlands, just as I used to see them over the Gowanus. Neither terrain suggests great hunting possibilities, but these soaring hawks are generalists. They usually go after mammals but are not above raiding that well-stocked larder of those urban chickens, the Rock Pigeons.

Red-tailed One

Buteo jamaicensisPerched near the edge of Green-Wood Cemetery, a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) surveys the scene. Buteo jamaicensisOne of the classic field marks of this species is the vaguely V-shaped white splotching on the back. Buteo jamaicensisThe band of darker splotches across the belly is another tell. (In the west, things get more complicated ~ there are some vary dark ones out there.)Buteo jamaicensisBut wait, where is this “red tail” noted in the very name of the beast? That, of course, is the tell-all field mark, usually nicely visible when perched or in the air (especially with the sun shining through it). But this bird is under a year old, Class of 2015: a juvenile, or perhaps more accurately given the speed of development, a sub-adult. It takes about a year for the brick-red/russet tail feathers to come in. I would also say that, based on the larger, fully adult bird seen later in the cemetery, that this is a male. In raptors, males are generally smaller.

Great Horned

Bubo virginianusBubo virginianus, bold as daylight.


Bookmark and Share

Join 381 other followers


  • Sure B.Clinton's attempt to get "tough on crime" cred by pointedly overseeing the execution of R.R. Rector during primaries was monstrous, 44 minutes ago
Nature Blog Network



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 381 other followers