Thursday, June 9, 2011

New York City birds

Some of you may know, I recently spent 10 days in New Yoirk at the end of April.
Such an extreme city in every which way.

During the 10 days, I managed to fit in trips to Central Park, Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park and Coney Island/Brighton Beach (so get ready for an extra mega long post!).
I had also hoped to make a trip over to Jamaica Bay nature reserve, but lack of time ended up in me not making it out there.

As soon as I arrived, Cara showed me a park which was right next to our apartment, Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.
The first birds I saw were weirdly the birds of our back garden in Drimnagh - House Sparrows, Starlings and Pigeons - all exactly the same as our own. The House Sparrows were abundant, especially along the residential streets, chirping away, flitting around, looking well.
I was later told by a group of American birders that the Starlings in America are referred to as 'European Starlings' and are hugely blamed for the decline of many vulnerable American bird species. (I made sure to mention the Ruddy Duck and Grey squirrel - y'know, just for the sake of balance.)

The other bird in abundance in Fort Greene was a bird, which to me, looked like our Blackbird - same size, beak, similar behaviour - but a big dull orange front and bit shabby looking.
Anyone who knows their North American birds will know exactly which bird I'm talking about, but with no knowledge I enjoyed the not knowing.

Eventually I found out that the Blackbird looking bird was actually an American Robin.
American Robin - no wonder they love to see the European Robin (Central Park, NYC).

CENTRAL PARK, Manhattan, New York City.
With an complete lack of knowledge of any American birds, my first trip to Central Park absolutely blew me away. Having just spent the day looking at old, shabby looking, stuffed birds in the Museum of Natural History (which is just across the road from Central Park), my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I was standing in the park and a bright red bird hopped out in front of me, it nearly took my breath away. The vitality and richness of the colours were so striking.
A second later, a vivid blue looking Jay bird flew in front of me, followed by a bird I thought looked like a House Sparrow from the back, until it turned around and I was hit by it's vibrant, loud, yellow feathers around it's lore.
Completely took me by suprise and after the 100's of dead birds I'd seen in the Museum I couldn't help smiling to myself at the beauty of life in these birds and their huge colours. They looked pretty much as punk as you can get. What else did I expect from New York bird?! I was very happy I had my 200mm lens.
White throated Sparrow - with the weirdest sounding song in the park, took me a while to realise it wasn't a person whistling their dog. Gorgeous birds. Look at that yellow! These birds breed in Canada and winter East Coast US, so I was lucky to get to see them in their breeding plumage before they flew back to Canada. (Central Park, NYC)
Actually, I've just found this youtube of the White Throated Sparrow singing if you want to have a listen to their mournful song, I couldn't believe it when I heard the sound and saw it was this bird making the sound.

The vivid red bird - Northern Cardinal (male)

Northern Cardinal - practicing for a Crest Off between him and a Waxwing
Female Northern Cardinal. These don't migrate and can be seen all year in Central park.
A Mourning Dove. I saw lots of these lovely little birds. Wikipedia says they can raise 6 broods a year and are one of the most hunted birds in USA (70 million shot per year). The light isn't great in this shot but the colours of the neck collar were beautiful.

When I was sitting on the ground, minding my own business, the cutest little bird with large dark eyes landed and started feeding near me. There was a feeder in the tree which it also visited very quickly, taking a seed and flying off. It did this several times. Looking up photos on the internet, I think this bird is a Tufted Titmouse

Tufted, Titmouse, Big eyes and shy little thing
Tufted Titmouse. At the feeder you can see it's tuft up before it takes a seed and quickly flies off (Central Park, NYC)
At the feeder I also saw a Black capped Chickadee and a Nuthatch.
Black capped Chickadee, which I thought looked very similar to our Coal tit
Nuthatch. First time I saw one of these was in Berlin, second time New York. Oooh Check me.
This woodpecker became very tame and even fed from the feeder in front of me. I think this is the female Red Bellied Woodpecker.
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Common Grackle. I saw this bird fluff out it's feathers next to a female - amazing sight, you can see it's wonderful colouring in the sunlight. House Sparrow in front.

These were the birds I managed to see on my own in Central park, I didn't get to learn the names until the next day when I went along to an organised 3 hour birding tour of Central park with 'Birding Bob'...

Central Park with 'Birding Bob'
If you google 'birds central park' one of the first things to come up is Birding Bob's website offering a 3 hour bird tour of Central park for $5. Once I saw that, I didn't look much further into what else was on offer. A fiver for a 3 hour tour around Central park? Sold.
Successfully managing to get myself from Brooklyn to the meeting place in Central Park for 8.30am, I met up with Birding Bob (real name Dr. Robert DeCandido, PhD) and about 15 other birders (all American).
BB was very friendly and likeable from the start, full of energy and enthusiasm, he was quite loud, but attentive to his group. I got a good feeling about him anyway. He started by asking if there was any bird in particular any of us wanted to see. I stayed quiet, I was happy enough already - let's face it, I was standing in Central Park of a Thursday morning about to go birding!

Birding Bob (in purple) and some American birders (Central Park, New York). $5 dollars for 3 hour birding tour of Central Park - amazing value.

Birders - ridiculous looking no matter where they are.

This was a 'Kinglet', the crest showed it's red feathers when it was alert/stressed. I see it's called a Ruby crowned kinglet but I think the birders that day all called it a Red Crested Kinglet

A Black and White warbler. Winters in Florida, Peru, Central America and I see it can sometimes turn up in Ireland!
Red Headed Woodpecker
Red Headed Woodpecker - this is one of the birds the 'European' starlings are being blamed for bringing into decline. Stealing their nests, their jobs, their places in the taxi ranks, scrounging off benefits and basically being the reason the Irish economy is in the state it's in. Nothing at all to do with banks, corporate greed and obnoxious politicians..ooohhh nooo..Sorry, what? Ne'er mind.

Patrick Moore? Donald Trump? A Double Crested Cormorant (Central Park, NY).
A Brown creeper aka American Tree Creeper.
Central Park, Manhattan, New York City. Thurs, 21st April, 2011.
A Junco Dark eyed or slate-coloured? I'm not sure - but Sibley being delivered end of next week
side and underwing of a ...
common Chipping Sparrow. These were very tame and were feeding near me for quite a while.

Birding Bob doesn't amble or walk at a gentle leisurely pace. He LEGS it around Central park. Snooze you lose kind of pace (and yes, we did lose people). Having been up since 6.30am, by 12noon my energy was waning and I was ready for a breather when he called it a day. It was a 'full on' morning of birding - very, very enjoyable - especially as a newbie to American birds, but even if you were very knowledgeable, you'd love Birding Bob because you'd be able to chat with him about rarities, he'd chat back with you and he'd probably be able to find them in the park for you. Because he's done so much research on Central Park, he seems to know it like it's his own back garden. Some back garden.


It was a freezing, windy, grey day the day we went to Coney Island, which was kind of perfect because I've always imagined Coney Island/Brighton Beach as a windswept, cold, bleak place (the area is hugely made up of Jewish post war immigrants from the Soviet States). After a look around and a long walk to keep warm, C ventured off to take photos of the Amusement parks and I headed left towards the sea.
On the beach, the atmosphere had turned tropical. Luckily I had my little pocket camera to capture the mood.

I overheard this Ring Billed Gull humming 'Club Tropicana, drinks are free....' Coney Island, New York.
Ring Billed Gull, first time I've seen one. They breed mostly Canada and North America, wintering mostly in South America, with some birds even flying over to Ireland and UK to winter.
I'd never seen these before, but guessed which gulls they were when they all started throwing their heads back and 'laughing'.
Laughing Gulls. I forgot I could have videoed them on my digital camera - the sound of them 'laughing' was amazing.
Laughing Gull, Coney Island, New York.
Laughing Gulls with their Saturday Night Fever, New York swagger
Laughing Gulls and Ring Billed Gulls weren't the only ones on their holliers.
I saw some birds, which to me, looked completely out of place.

Brent Geese! Coney Island, New York. Not Crumlin, Ballyfermot or shorelines around East coast Ireland.
I also saw them swimming under the Brooklyn bridge

Brent Geese swimming under the Brooklyn Bridge, New York.

PROSPECT PARK, Brooklyn, New York.

One of the other parks we visited was Prospect Park, also in Brooklyn. Much smaller than Central Park, but still quite huge and a hotspot for birders and Punk Squirrels.

Punk Squirrels, Prospect Park, New York. (It's a Chipmunk).
Punk Blackbirds too. Unfortunately couldn't get a decent picture showing the sheer brilliance of the yellow and red on it's wing. Red-winged Blackbird, Prospect Park, New York.

2 other birds in Prospect Park start the Unknown Bird section and end of this 'Birds in New York' post. Despite the fact that most people would assume there's no birds at all in the urban Mecca that is New York, it was a great spot for a bit of birding, as I hope this post makes a vague jab at showing.

OK - the Unknown Bird section:

Unknown 1. Prospect Park - Palm Warbler as per Craig Nash
Unknown 2. Prospect Park - White thraoated Sparrow - as per Craig Nash
Beautiful Unknown 3. Red patch similar to the Red Bellied, but different back, front and primaries. Northern Flicker as per Craig Nash
Same bird, showing golden primaries. - Northern Flicker
Unknown 4, Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, New York. Northern Mockingbird as per Craig Nash
Same bird - not the happiest looking of birds. Northern Mockingbird
Unknown 5, Central Park Field Sparrow - as per Craig Nash
Unknown 6, Central Park - Blue Grey Gnatcatcher as per Craig Nash
Unknown 7, looking a bit like our Long Tailed Tit, Central Park. Field Sparrow again - thanks so much Craig.

Highlights for me? Probably when the little White throated Sparrow turned around showing it's yellow feathers around the beak, seeing 2 Brent Geese paddling in the sea at Coney Island and looking at the Manhattan skyline at Brooklyn Bridge and seeing 4 Brent Geese swim into view, also hearing and watching the antics of the Laughing Gulls.