Posts Tagged 'Croton Point'

Raptor Wednesday

A ruckus of Blue Jays, then something large swoops up to land on a branch in the woods. A hawk! But it’s not the expected Red-tailed (Buteo jamaicensis) — one of which was seen just minutes beforehand in the air. This bird calls in a distinctive kee-yar, kee yar! It’s a young Red-Shouldered (Buteo lineatus). (No red shoulders and front until it ages a bit). It flies again, to land surprisingly near the road and a better photographic opportunity, if I can hustle up there subtly enough.This is a juvenile. While Buteo birds share some similarities when young, the Red-shouldered has a pretty distinctive bill: pale blue base, black tip, yellow cere.

I don’t see these often.
Here are few from the archives: a mature bird at Croton Point.
They are pretty distinctive in flight.Now, compare with this:Here’s a young Red-tailed Hawk, in much more sun.

Mammal Monday

New York City’s City Hall Park squirrels are as bold as lobbyists. They come right up to you when you’re taking a picture of, say, a holly in the snow, and make their demands known.Elsewhere, however, the smaller mammals keep to the night, but that does not necessarily mean they make it through the night…

Raptor Wednesday

Haliaeetus leucocephalusA Bald Eagle at Croton Point. In February, I had 61 raptor sightings (!), a count which includes a total of 18 sightings during two trips up to Croton Point.

More about non-violent protest. The take away: demonstrations are good, need to continue, and get bigger. Here’s a list of actions in NYC. Here’s the Resistance Calendar, which shares the fun around the country. Anaheim, Toledo, Colorado Springs, Pittsburgh, Salem, Austin, Atlanta, Providence, Nashville… Here’s where you can find the Indivisible groups and actions around the country.

Raptor Wednesday

A winter trip to Croton Point Park up in Westchester Co. has become a regular thing for Backyard & Beyond. Last week I took a group from Brooklyn Brainery up to see the Bald Eagles. It was the annual Teatown Hudson River EagleFest: there were volunteers with scopes stationed at the boat landing south of the train station (as well as other spots along the river); and a shuttle bus service to ferry us into the park.

On the train heading up, I spied five eagles perched in a little tree-thickened spit jutting out into the river just south of Sing Sing. I had been worried that sightings might be slim, since there wasn’t much ice on the river. A cold winter further north means more eagles heading further south on the river to look for open water. But it was in the high 40s.
Haliaeetus leucocephalusBut there were eagles in the scopes trained across the Croton River’s mouth. Nice to fulfill the mission of the expedition within ten minutes of getting off the train. From there we headed into the park itself, which is dominated by a capped landfill. This is maintained as grassland, habitat vital for various diurnal and nocturnal hunters. Some of our group got a quick glimpse of a Long-eared Owl harassed by songbirds before it flew over the parking lot.

Through the day, we saw a female American Kestrel and at least one juvenile Northern Harrier hunting over the hill. Two distant eagles cavorted over the hill. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks were seen repeatedly in the trees around the hill.Buteo jamaicensisAt one point, the male caught, or scavenged, a mammal and called for his mate with a sound I can’t recall hearing before. She appeared, and there was some dancing from tree branch to tree branch.A food transfer seemed to be in process, although we never saw the actual talon-off.Accipiter cooperiiThe next to last big bird of the day was this Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii), making for five species of raptors. It was, you will not be surprised to learn, near the bird feeders at the Nature Center. There, a Carolina Wren (the ones around my parents’ house never came to the feeders) was joined by the usual winter crowd of Juncos, Cardinals, Songs, and Downies.

On the return train, we saw a mature Bald Eagle with a fish in claws being shadowed by a hopeful gull. The giant raptor flew low over the water and paralleled the train for a few seconds.

Through the Trees

IMG_5795Happy Monday.

The Red-Shouldered League

Buteo lineatusThere are more Buteos in heaven and earth then are dreamt of in our philosophy. Or at least here on earth, which is graced with some 29 species. These are, generally, medium-to-large hawks with broad wings and short tails who typically soar overhead. The Red-tailed Hawk (B. jamaicensis) is the most common in North America. This species is found in every habitat, comes in quite a few varieties, and is the classic road-side hawk, perched or soaring above our highways and byways. There are a fair number who make New York City itself home; one 5th Avenue (Manhattan) resident in particular is a celebrity and, for some, a virtual fetish.Buteo lineatusOne assumes, then, upon seeing a bulky hawkish silhouette in a tree that it will resolve itself as the old faithful Red-tailed. Which is precisely why one should always look! At Croton Point, as we were walking towards the bridge over the train yard, I saw this bird behind a row of trees, perched with hawk-eye scanning a closely-cropped hill. Buteo lineatusHow exciting to discover that this shape in the tree wasn’t just another a RTH — no offense of course to the RTHs. This is a Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus, a rather rarer bird.

Look at those long legs! These RSHs runs smaller than the average Red-tailed and have shorter wings and longer tails. The red shoulder may be hard to see. I didn’t see it from my several limited angles through the branches. In California, the adult birds are bright orange on the breast, here on the East Coast less so, but I’d still call this a “ginger.”Buteo lineatus California is where I saw my first. Elsewhere, more locally: here’s one eating a snake in Great Swamp; and this one was practically in the ‘hood at Marine Park. Note that in the first picture of this sequence, the wind is splaying the neck and/or chin feathers to show the lighter color beneath. Buteo lineatus

It’s No 2015

Haliaeetus leucocephalusLast winter, the Bald Eagles were thick in the air up the Hudson at Croton Point. This winter, which has been absurdly mild, not so much. The rivers aren’t frozen further north, so there’s no reason for these fish-eaters to pile up further south.

We did see 1-3 adult Baldies yesterday over a span of nearly four hours; this could have been the same bird, of course. There was also the subadult pictured here. A Red-tailed Hawk was shadowing it earlier, probably trying to escort it out of its territory.

We also saw a male Northern Harrier low over the landfill and a Red-Shouldered Hawk perched behind a row of trees. Yeah! Both of these species are relatively rare, although Croton Point is a good place to spot them.

There were also two Black Vultures, which surprised me. And a Raven on the ground eating something, which surprised me even more. We watched it wipe off its bill on a branch before puffing out its feathers like a pufferfish.

Raptor Wednesday

Falco columbariusA Merlin (Falco columbarius) at Croton Point. On a recent excursion, the peninsula was largely iced-in on the water side and covered in snow on the land. As a result, Bald Eagles were few and far between: we had only nine sightings (we’re getting spoiled). There was also a dearth of Red-tails: just one one juvenile bird. A male Northern Harrier was flying over the hill.

Amidst The Eagles

Haliaeetus leucocephalusWould you believe me if I said there were so many Bald Eagles 50 minutes north of NYC by train that I simply lost count of the plethora of winged giants in the winter landscape? Luckily, somebody was keeping score: one member of our Brooklyn Brainery party tallied two dozen eagle sightings during our excursion to Croton Point on Saturday. Since the birds can cover a good bit of terrain with those huge wings, some of these were no doubt the same bird seen more than once. But it’s not hyperbole to say they were all over the place, on the ice, perched in trees, and flapping, flapping through the air. It was an all ages, show, too, for it’s only the mature birds of five and more years who sport the iconic gleaming white feathers on their heads and tails. Younger birds, juveniles and subadults, can look like another species entirely without the ivory bookends and with their paler, more mottled plumage.PalisadesThe Palisades were just a gray bulk in the swirling snow when we swung out around Deadman’s Curve at Spuyten Duyvil on the train, so I was worried we would all be stuck in a swirl of snowstorm. There was ice on the river, though, which was good for eagle-watching. Birds from further north come south looking for open water in winter, joining locals at gregarious feeding grounds (fish is their main food, but waterfowl and anything they can find will do, including carrion). Even seated backwards, I counted four eagles on or over the river on the trip up. Two perched birds were visible from the train as it pulled into the station (whew! you can’t promise a wildlife sighting, but you do like to be able to meet the advertised point of the trip). And the snow had nearly stopped. It was the annual Teatown Hudson River Eagle Fest, so the nearby boat ramp had a contingent of Saw Mill River Audubon folks with their scopes generously set up on three eagles. The small tent there had some of the daily tallies recorded from further up river that morning: George’s Island 30+, Verplanck 50+. (According to a message I read yesterday on the NY state bird list, “well in excess of 100” eagles were seen Saturday between Tarrytown and Peekskill.)

Most of the birds were distant, meaning optical assistance was a great help in seeing them. The photo at the top is zoomed-in to the max. This is pretty typical. But so are closer fly-overs, which are always deeply impressive with those barn-door wings and hand-sized talons. And at one point, we could hear one of these birds calling in its mewling, pipping voice. This is not the sound of the mighty eagle’s cry on your manly pickup truck ad (they usually use the Red-tailed hawk’s screech for movie and television soundtracks over images of eagles). Haliaeetus leucocephalusBut sometimes, you luck out with a very close bird. Right next to the pavilion and tents sent up for Eagle Fest — boy, did I feel sorry for the people inside the tents at that moment! — an adult bird landed in the trees with fish in talons to enjoy a sashimi feast. Haliaeetus leucocephalusThe stain of fish-blood can bee seen on the yellow bill here.Haliaeetus leucocephalusTom Lake, who compiles the weekly Hudson River Almanac for the Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, tells me that the decapitated and rapidly dwindling fish here is probably a Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum).Haliaeetus leucocephalusHere the bird is wiping the blood and presumably scales from its bill. I’ve seen songbirds do this after gobbling up a caterpillar, cleaning up the juice and gore, but at this scale — the bill’s as long as a warbler — it’s quite amazing.

Note the band on the bird’s leg: blue means this one was banded here in New York state. U62 is the number: Mr. Lake graciously shared with me that this bird was banded at the age of 3.5 weeks at a nest north of Albany in May, 2006. She — it’s not easy to sex eaglets, but this one was put down as a probable female — was one of three nestlings that season for that nest pair. In May, she’ll be nine years old. Average lifespan for the birds: 15-30 years, with captive birds on record up to 48. These eagles have made a fantastic comeback from the bleak years of the 1970s, so much so that the feds delisted them from the Endangered Species list in 2007. I’ve seen different statistics, with a high of over 7,000 breeding pairs now across the Lower 48, compared to estimates of 50,000 breeding pairs or more when the bird was made the national symbol in 1782. But they still face many hazards: collision (Conductor on MetroNorth: “We have to stop when we hit one.”), poisoning by lead (buckshot in ducks left by hunters) and mercury in fish (thanks, GE), and shooting (illegal, but there are still sociopaths and assholes), among others. So, almost nine years in a polluted, hazardous, developed region: nice work, bird (and those who have aided, protected, and nurtured you), and long may you continue to fly! eagle2The mighty Palisades on the return trip.

Pro Tip

Buteo jamaicensisDon’t walk underneath perching Red-Tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). I narrowly missed being spritzed with one of these birds’s ribbons of excreta. You will notice, when you watch raptors with any regularity, that they tend to squirt just before launching into flight.


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