Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fall bird migration highlights plus some unusual visitors

Fall bird migration is underway, and a lot of interesting travelers have stopped over in the city on their way south.

On a recent visit to Central Park, I found this beautiful Red-Eyed Vireo stuffing itself with insects before continuing on its journey to South America.

Red-eyed vireo

The Blue-Headed Vireo is one of my favorites, so I'm happy to have seen quite a few this season. The ones below were photographed on Governors Island and in Central Park.

Blue-headed vireo

Blue-headed vireo

Blue-headed vireo

The blue head really stands out on this one.

Blue-headed vireo

I've never understood how the Black-Throated Green Warbler got its name as it can be recognized by its bright yellow head, and doesn't have much green on it at all. Stunning nonetheless!

Black-throated green warbler

The two yellow Palm Warblers below were rambling around Central Park. They can usually be seen foraging on the ground in the grass or dirt, and aren't as shy as some other birds. I've probably seen more Palms than any other warbler this season.

Palm Warbler

Palm warbler

Bright blue male Indigo Buntings will usually draw a crowd of admirers, but the females can be overlooked as they appear drab in comparison. The one below shows off her bluish tail, but is otherwise a warm brown with subtle markings. I think she looks elegant.

Indigo Bunting

Another female bird who is not as flashy as her male counterpart is the House Finch. The one below does have a hint of red to her cocoa-colored coat, and I like the soft streaking on her sides. She may or may not be migrating as these birds can be found in the city all year. Interesting fact: House Finches came to be in NYC after being released from a pet store in 1940.

House Finch

I've been excited to see a lot of wrens this fall season. They are tiny, fast-moving birds that dart around the underbrush like mice, but this Winter Wren paused in the sun in Central Park long enough for me to snap a single photo. In 2016, there was one in Tompkins Square Park that was much more cooperative.

Wren

One of my goals this year has been to learn more about sparrows. Chipping Sparrows travel through the city in spring and fall, but I was also able to spend time with them over the summer in their nesting grounds in Connecticut. I've found the best way to tell sparrows apart in the field is by ear, and the Chipping Sparrow's call/song is one of the easiest sounds to learn.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Another sparrow with a distinctive voice is the appropriately-named Song Sparrow. These birds nest on Governors Island in the summer, which is a great place to go and listen to them as they compete with Red-Winged Blackbirds for the Who-Can-Sing-Loudest Award.

Song Sparrow

One of the tiniest and quickest moving birds is the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. These guys always give me a challenge when trying to photograph them as they dart around non-stop. The one below is in the process of stretching upwards to snatch an insect out of the air.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

I had some luck recently seeing Common Nighthawks as they zipped around the sky at dusk. I've not been able to photograph one since 2014, when they appeared in Tompkins Square Park. I've seen them recently in Central Park, and the one below was flying around the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. They can be identified in flight by the white patches on their wings.

Nighthawk

The city has seen some unusual visitors this fall, including this Virginia Rail, who hung out in Abingdon Square in the West Village for several days. I'd never seen one before, so this was a special catch for me. These birds are usually found in wetlands, so seeing one in a tiny city park was pretty cool. It was happily eating earthworms that were exposed by gardeners who were turning up the soil in preparation for planting flowers.

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

During the same time period, a Sora turned up in Madison Square Park. About the size of a European Starling, this small wetland bird was more difficult to spot. It hid in the bushes for long periods of time, then would run across open areas to get to another patch of dense vegetation.

Sora

This unusual bird is not native, nor is it a migrant. It is a male Pin-Tailed Whydah, native to sub-Saharan Africa, and is likely an escaped/dumped pet. He was found hanging out in the northeastern part of Central Park. Check out his spectacular tail!

Pin-Tailed Whydah

Although beautiful, the Whydah is an invasive species and a brood parasite. The New York Times (paywall) published an interesting article back in 2017 about how the bird is invading California after individuals have been released by pet owners.

The one in Central Park is a lone male, so won't likely cause any harm, but we've already seen one major bird invasion thanks to exotic species being introduced to Central Park.

Hint:

Starlings


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fall hawk migration

We're already well into October and hawk activity is starting to ramp up in the city. With fall raptor migration underway, our local red-tails are being more vigilant, ready to defend their territories against any interlopers.

In the East Village, red-tails Christo and Amelia have been spending more time closer to home and Tompkins Square. I recently found Amelia perched in the park, catching the last rays of light.

Amelia

About ten seconds after I took the above photo, Amelia surprised me by diving over my head to catch a rat on the ground behind me. She flew it right past the faces of three girls on sitting on a bench, then into the trees where Christo suddenly appeared. The two of them flew off together with the rat, and I lost track of them in the dark. I was so caught off guard, I missed capturing the action with my camera!

Meanwhile, young red-tails have been seen in East River Park, which is a popular migration route each season. The hawk below was hunting around the Lower East Side Ecology Center near Grand Street.

Immature red-tail

Immature red-tail

Immature red-tail

Last weekend, just after sunset, I came upon another young red-tail in Central Park at the Shakespeare Garden.

Immature red-tail in the Shakespeare Garden

Immature red-tail in the Shakespeare Garden

Central Park is home to the king of all NYC hawks, Pale Male. I spent a couple of hours with him on a recent sunny afternoon as he hung out in the Ramble. He really is distinctively beautiful.

Pale Male

Pale Male has a commanding presence, and it was great to see passersby stop to admire him. Everyone who stopped to have a look walked away smiling.

Pale Male

Although Pale Male rules the park, there are other hawks in living in his realm. The pair below were perched on a building along 59th Street at the south end of the park. I don't know much about this pair other than they've been around a while, but have not yet successfully nested.

Red-tailed pair

We should now start seeing hawks other than red-tails, such as this young Cooper's hawk, who was flying around Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Cooper's hawk in Green-Wood Cemetery

Cooper's hawk in Green-Wood Cemetery

I always enjoy this time of year because it's a good opportunity to see raptors, especially now that the leaves are falling from the trees and the birds become more visible.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kestrels in action

Late summer saw numerous kestrel fledglings disperse from their nest cavities here in the city. After leaving the nest, kestrel families will usually stick together for a while as the parents teach the youngsters to hunt large insects and small birds and rodents. I spent a few days with one such family on Governors Island as they practiced their new hunting and flying skills.

This male has a very pale chest and a generous smattering of black spots.

Kestrel

Below is a second male with smaller, fainter spots.

Kestrel

Two males together:

Kestrels

Below is a third, heavily spotted male. Note he has two striped outer tail feathers on each side while the male above has only one on each side. This was one way to tell them apart.

Kestrel

Two females:

Kestrels

I had a harder time telling the females apart as their color patterns looked very similar. They also flew around so fast, it was hard to keep up.

Kestrel

Kestrel

Kestrel

The kestrels preferred perching on bare branches at the highest points of the trees. From there, they could see each other and their prey.

Kestrel coming in for a landing

Kestrel

Kestrel

A female and the heavily spotted male perch together:

Kestrels

So, why all the darting around in the trees? Late summer offers up the perfect kestrel snack: cicadas. Below, one of the females tucks into one.

Kestrel eating a cicada

Crop full and sun going down, the heavily-spotted male perches on a rooftop as I reluctantly head back to the ferry.

Kestrel

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Highlights from the 2019 Raptor Fest in Central Park

Below are some highlights from the 2019 Raptor Festival, which took place in Central Park this last weekend. The event was hosted by the NYC Urban Park Rangers, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. The festival featured a fantastic variety of raptors including owls, hawks, falcons, eagles and a vulture.

This is a Eurasian Eagle Owl, whose brilliant orange eyes gave me chills.

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Check out those massive talons.

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Compare the bright eyes of the eagle owl with those of the Barred Owl, which are very dark.

Barred Owl

This is a lovely Black Vulture.

Black Vulture

Her wingspan is enormous. Although I see vultures soaring over the city, I was thrilled to see one this close.

Black Vulture

Bald Eagle!

Bald Eagle

This Harris's Hawk put on a lively flying demonstration.

Harris's Hawk

Notice the differing patterns on her wing feathers - this hawk is molting from juvenile to adult plumage.

Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawk

The colorful American Kestrel is always a crowd-pleaser. These little falcons nest here in the city.  

Kestrel

NYC is also home to the fastest animal on the planet, the Peregrine Falcon.

Peregrine

This year, Raptor Fest included several birds I've never seen before, one of which was this gorgeous Aplomado Falcon.

Aplomado Falcon

And a Saker-Gyrfalcon hybrid.

Gyrfalcon hybrid

Gyrfalcon hybrid

The most unusual bird of the day had to be this African Crowned Eagle. Its size and presence were stunning, and everyone had to get pic!

African Crowned Eagle

African Crowned Eagle

Many of the birds on display were non-releasable due to injuries. This Eastern Screech Owl is blind in one eye and is in the care of Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation (WINORR).

Blind Screech Owl

Many thanks to the NYC Urban Park Rangers, Bobby and Cathy Horvath from WINNOR, and all the falconers who shared their beautiful birds and made it such a fun and educational day.

See many more photos from this exciting day over on my Flickr page.

Previously.