Posts Tagged 'birding'

Some Birds

The Swedish trip recedes swiftly into the past, but digital memory lives on! Here are a few of the birds I managed to get photos of:Great Tit (Parus major) at a Swedish-made bird feeder in the Botanical Garden in Copenhagen. This angle does not show the black streak running down the GT’s breast, so here’s another view:Compare with the Blue Tit:Cyanistes caeruleus.You should know both these silhouettes. Real Rock Dove (Columba livia) perched on bronze heron.Actual Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea). Smaller than our Great Blue (Ardea herodias).Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus), seen with much greater frequency than Rock Dove.Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra), young and old. And why not another view of the situation?Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). Formerly lumped with North America’s Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata).Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus).Adult breeding plumage is quite dark: an almost black breast and black legs.

Ariel Dorfman on Trump’s militant ignorance and the war on knowledge.

Raptor Wednesday at the Movies

The first sight of a church yard in Copenhagen triggered a memory that bloomed in Sweden. I’d seen such graveyards before: the gravel plots fenced in by foot-high hedges rigorously trimmed, the raked patterns in the somber gray sand. Very orderly, compact, clean.

It was all in the 1999 Swedish film Falkens öga/Kestrel’s Eye, about a pair of Common Kestrels nesting in a church building. The Swedish name for Kestrels is Tornfalk, which means tower falcon. How apt. In the film, we see the humans below come and go, tidying up their family plots; there’s a wedding and, inevitably, a funeral; hedge-trimmings are vacuumed up by a machine too big for the task. It’s all from the Kestrel’s POV (albeit without their greater span of the light spectrum!). The falcons dine on voles and, in one case, a lizard. Every descent to prey portrayed in the film is a successful kill, which is not particulately accurate; raptors miss a lot. The birds have six eggs. Five fledge: the fate of the sixth is not explicated; indeed, there’s no narration and the only human voices present are overheard from below.

Anyway, I found the film on Kanopy, which NYPL library card holders can use for free, and watched it again to refresh my memory. It turned out to take place at the very church in Skanör where we hunted for hedgehogs one night. The indented circle is where the falcons perched. Their nest was just below that to the left; you can barely see the top of the hole in the side of the wall. If I’d only realized this was the location as we ate breakfast next to it every day (the best breakfasts we’ve ever had out, by the way, even if there were no lizards or voles among the varied fare), I would have taken a more appropriate picture. The Flommen marshes, where we saw quite a few Kestrels hunting (perhaps the descendants of this pair?) are visible in a few scenes in the film. Skanörs borg, a ruin of a 13th century fort that’s mostly just a little hillock in the otherwise very flat terrain, is next to the church (parts of which date back about that far, too). This photo is from the top of the borg. The moat in the foreground was a lot less crowded with common reed in the late 1990s.

I also finally saw Birders: The Central Park Effect, 2012, on the same Kanopy platform. It was better than I expected. Though Central is justly renown as a birding location, I’m a Brooklyn boy and only get there a few times a year, if that. But I certainly recognized some names and faces from the bird-watching community there. Loved seeing the late Starr Saphir, a wonderfully flinty and wise birder. She talks about the second-best bird sighting she ever had from her apartment, a juvenile Goshawk — quite a good fire escape bird that — but this made me wonder what her best ever bird sighting was from her apartment.

So it turned out to be a bird film festival, because then I watched The Messenger: An Ode to the Imperiled Songbird, originally released in 2015. I know people are always looking for the silver lining, celebrating small victories in conservation, but the overriding story remains one of gloom, so damned well documented in this movie. Climate change, habitat destruction, hunting, city light pollution and glass buildings, cats, poisoning via pesticides, etc. are all resulting in fewer and fewer birds (and other animals, of course). “The messenger” is the old canary in a coal mine, as well as the ornithologists on the front lines. Meanwhile, a Frenchman who gobbles up Ortolans in contravention of the law insists he’ll stop when science proves to him that the birds are disappearing, echoing all those fisherman who said the same thing, denying the facts until there were no more fish to fish.

A rune stone in the Danish National Museum, at least a thousand years old. I like the way it echoes the first picture above.Bonus! Film studies comrades of yore: do you know which Swedish film opens with a short view of a Tornfalk hovering, here skillfully caught off the screen by your correspondent?

Muddy Duck

Ah, the White-breasted… wait a minute?Who the devil is this? These large, distinctive ducks were spotted all over Copenhagen.Took me a minute to figure out what I was looking at, later confirmed by our bird guide in Sweden. What do you think?

Birds in Hand IV

A juvenile male Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus), known as skäggmes to the locals, at the Flommen banding station.The adult males have black markings down the sides of their face, the “beard,” rather more like a full mustache. This species has also been called Bearded Parrotbill and Bearded Tit. It seems to be in its own family, with no living close relatives.

Birds in Hand III

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana).Småfläckig sumphöna. Our Sora is in the same genus.They netted another, this one substantially smaller than the first, so it had some chowing down to do before taking off for Africa. These birds eat insects and other aquatic yummies found in marshes. [The birds are weighed and checked for body fat, which is done by blowing the feathers away from their bellies to see the fat reserves or lack thereof.]And then a Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) was netted. This was all the same morning, btw. This one is known as vattenrall in Swedish. We had heard one or two previously, which is often the most you can ask for from these reed-dwellers.Our Virginia Rail is also a Rallus.Some new feathers coming in here…

Raptor Wednesday

Within three hours of New York City, there are a number of places where you can spot soaring and south-bound migrating raptors this time of year.

The most famous is the farthest away: Hawk Mountain in PA. I’ve been once; it was a pretty slow day for hawks. That’s always the gamble: are the weather conditions right?

Here’s a panorama of the view from the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch near Mt. Kisco in Westchester Co. Looking towards Connecticut, with a bit of LI Sound to the far right.

This watch is run by the Bedford Audubon on the Nature Conservancy’s Arthur M. Butler Memorial Sanctuary. We visited on Saturday: that day’s totals are here. Most sightings were fairly distant, but we did have Broad-winged Hawks directly overhead, and looking down on Turkey Vultures is a nice change of pace.

We can’t say enough nice things about the three Bedford Audubon folks (Tait, Charlotte, and official counter Silvan) who were up there counting and sharing their knowledge. Plus they have bleacher seating! The site is a fairly easy ten-minute hike up from the parking lot. Downside: the noise of the unseen highway below is loud, and the morning sun is bright, but by 11:30 there was some shade. Here’s the view north from State Line Lookout, just south of the NY/NJ border in the Palisades Interstate Park. We stopped off here, too, on a roundabout way back to the city on Saturday. It’s a pretty different scene at this hawk watch: a lot more people (it’s next to a parking lot & cafe), a lot more bazooka-length cameras. But the birds can be much more obliging. On Saturday we had very close looks at several Sharpies, Peregrines, and Ospreys. There are, in fact, a family of Peregrine living in the area. They were perched fairly close to the lookout. For someone used to seeing these birds on buildings and bridges, their relatively newly adopted habitat (cf. London), watching them perch on their age-old cliff-face habitat was pretty special.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list of local hawk watches. For instance, there’s also Hook Mountain in Nyack, NY, which we have not visited. Let us know about others!

And right here in NYC is Fort Tilden. When conditions are right, this is a great place to watch the birds shooting west from further down Long Island.

Birds in Hand II

The Flommen reedbeds, just north of the lighthouse, are also set up with mist nets by the folks at the Falsterbo Fågelstation. Here’s a Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) they netted just before we visited. Gräshoppsångare is more likely to be heard than seen. This was a first netted example for our guide, Evan, who worked a season here banding birds (the nets are set before sunrise). Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), sävsångare.All these little dudes head south for the winter, to northern Africa or even further south.These Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra), buskskvätta, fly to central Africa. Female on left, male on right. Unlike the other birds pictured here, we usually saw a couple of these every day.  Like Kestrels, they like to perch on fence posts above meadows.Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), lövsångare. This might be a good place to note that Old World warblers are not related to New World warblers. So this was an incredible opportunity to get extraordinary good looks at the birds that are generally rather elusive.And subtle! This is a Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Rörsångare. The volunteers worked out of one of the tiny, adorable beach houses that line the shore front.


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