Posts Tagged 'birding'

Northern Rough-winged Swallows

That’s a mouthful of a common name, but then Stelgidopteryx serripennis is a binomial tongue-exercise as well. We found five fledglings perched over the water. They were being fed at their perches and in mid-air, with the older and/or bolder siblings flying out to meet their busy parents. You can see the cinnamon color on the wings of these birds. And a little lemon-yellowy on the front?

NRWS, the plainest of our swallows in terms of plumage, nest in holes in banks by rivers and creeks and highway cuts and escarpments. They’ll also build nests in various human structures, like drainpipes, crevices in buildings, and nooks under bridges. They’re not colonial like Bank Swallows, but will sometimes nest among them. They’ve been recorded nesting in three of the five boroughs, with Manhattan and Brooklyn missing out. (Governor’s Island, technically part of the borough of Manhattan, has seen them nest in recent years.) This particular nest is in the Bronx. Five to seven are in the average clutch.

Both “rough-winged” and Stelgidopteryx serripennis refer to the same characteristic, the stiff, roughened edges of the primary feathers. Which means something with a bird in hand, but not so much to the observer from afar.


The Common Raven (Corvus corax) family of Brooklyn numbers four. The first I heard of them was near the end of May, when the City Birder spotted them in Green-Wood Cemetery. I first saw them on June 9th. It was 6:15 a.m. and they were turning a floppy right over the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal at 39th Street, flying in the direction of Green-Wood. Yesterday noon, my second viewing of the clan. I’d just exited the 36th St. subway and was walking down 4th Avenue. I heard a strange noise above the infernal combustion cacophony of that grim roadway. The call was not one I was familiar with, yet it was corvid-ish and had my raven-senses jangling. Looking up and around, I saw nothing. But then I heard it again and spotted a big corvid flying over the school I was walking past. The bird turned around and flew back my way (hey, thanks!), giving me a good view of the tell-tale tail. Then it landed on one of the two water towers of the 39th Street building where I photographed the family of five last year. Luckily, I had my camera. A second bird soon joined the first. There was much rejoicing, I gather, but I couldn’t hear anything from where I was. Then two more birds joined them, and the foursome flew towards the water, angling southwards at roughly 1st Avenue (they sure do have a route!).It was on New Year’s Day 2015 that I first spotted a pair of Ravens grooming each other here in Brooklyn. That was pretty unusual in and of itself, but then the pair bred! That was historic. Is it still the same pair? What happened to last year’s trio of fledglings? If it is the same pair, this would be their second year of nesting. As far as we know, the nest is in Brooklyn itself, but its location remains a mystery.


Green Heron, evidently abandoned. A rather loose collection, looking precarious, like a Mourning Dove’s, but larger and twiggier.Red-winged Blackbird.  Lots of grassy-sedgy material in these whirling constructions.Fierce defenders of their breeding areas, RWBBs will go after anything that gets in their space, including much bigger birds like Red-tailed Hawks. As I approached this lake, one chased off a Green Heron. A friend in Illinois was recently attacked by a RWBB. The ones around these nests just yelled at me.Oops! Baltimore Oriole male leaving nest after dropping off some chow.

Anil Dash put this very well in one-two tweets yesterday:

“We don’t have effective registration of firearm sales only because gun advocates want to preserve the ability to shoot federal officials.”

“That’s not conjecture, that’s the stated reason. Hunting & self-defense are not compromised by registering firearm sales.”

Case in point, Raul Rand, while running for President last year, shared this tweet from one of his lunatic fringe allies: “Why do we have the Second Amendmenment? It’s not to shoot deer. It’s to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!”

Nycticorax nycticorax

The cosmopolitan Black-crowned Night Heron.That binomial means “night crow night crow,” named for the squawking sound they make at night, which was supposed to remind someone of a corvid.But they do some good work in the day, too. Although you’ll often finding them like these two, waiting for the darkness.A juvenile.


With their parents noisily thrashing in the leafy underbrush nearby, a trio of young Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) were doing some of their own foraging in the grass. Still being fed, but also learning to do it for themselves. I was curious to see what would happen as a Great Egret approached one of the birds. The Egret was constantly dipping into the pond, sometimes snagging little treats. A plump fledgling would not, I think, be passed up if available. The fledgling was no fool, however, and flew into a tree with plenty of time to spare while the egret continued on nabbing little morsels from the edge of the pond.

How Now, Brown Thrasher?

All three of our regional Mimidae can be found here in New York City. Northern Mockingbirds are year-around regulars, even on the streets and in backyards. The Catbirds swoosh into the parks to breed in spring and their meowing calls and other songs are a major part of the aural landscape of the woods until the fall. But the Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma ruff), as boldly patterned and colored as it is, is not so easily seen.

A good place to spot them is on the western end of the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where they like the thick shrub layer but occasionally pop out into the open. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear them sing. Like the other mimic birds, they are great songsters: their “song is a complex string of many musical phrases (many copied from other birds’ songs, with each phrase typically sung twice before moving on)” to quote Cornell.

Raptor Wednesday

The absences must be marked as well as the presences.

Last spring, a pair of Osprey nested on this very tall light post above the parking lot at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Barely a twig remains.

To my knowledge, this was the first such nest on the New York Bay edge of Kings County. (You’d have to go back to before it was Kings Co., perhaps). Osprey definitely nest along the south coast of Brooklyn, at Marine Park, and into Jamaica Bay, which Kings shares with Queens County. (Two weekends ago, we saw a minimum of five different Osprey at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.)

The SBMT pair had at least one youngster. What happened then? The adults would have flown south by September or October. The fledgling, if it survived, would have as well, but with no experience of migration to call upon. A bird’s first year is its most dangerous. Older birds are survivors in every sense, and much wiser.

I know of Osprey from Nantucket and Jamaica Bay whose migrations have been satellite-tracked to Colombia. It takes about 14 days of flying to make the trip from NYC, and roughly the same time to fly back. Some may fly further south, some not as far. Paired birds split up in the fall, then reunite, if all goes well, on their return to the nesting site in the spring.

With so many hazards along the way, it’s remarkable that any return year after year. But of course, some don’t.

Trump will need no other epitaph than Rebecca Solnit’s.


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  • Dreamed about how hard it is to photograph damselflies. In a barbershop. In front of a heating duct which melted my phone. 14 minutes ago
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