Little Park Big Day – Pictures Pt 2

5 10 2010

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Here are a couple more pictures from the Saturday. The thing I like about the Little Park is that it is so small the birds always tend to be close enough to snag a decent shot.

Little Park, Big Day – Pictures Pt 1

4 10 2010

Black-throated Green - Luke Tiller

Here’s some of the warbler snaps from my fun Saturday in the Little Park in Chelsea. I’m now at 76 species for the Little Park including 15 species of warbler (a female BT Blue on Sunday making it 15 on the season).

Little Park, Big Day

3 10 2010

Swainson’s Thrush – Luke Tiller

Saturday morning I found myself in the city. After a weeks worth of lousy migration weather it was almost tough to sleep such was the excitement of  getting up to see what the overnight winds might have delivered in the shape of birds to the Little Park on the Hudson.

I have to admit that having been here in the states a number of years now that I sometimes become a little blase about the common migrants (and the more you bird, the more ‘common’ birds get added to that list). What I love about having a patch is that it often makes finding of even the most prosaic of birds exciting, for example the thrill of adding Semipalmated Plover to the Allen’s Meadows list was no way undermined by having seen thousands of them in other parts of the state.

As I’ve said before, for me the thrill of birding is the thrill of the unknown. The great thing about the Little Park on the Hudson is that almost any find there is something of a thrill beyond the odd House Sparrow or Starling. Saturday morning though was something of a banner day at the park. I arrived just before sun up and realized that the park was alive with migrants. Not quite dripping with birds but nothing to be sneered at. Almost as soon as I got into the park I was on my first goody of the day, an immature White-crowned Sparrow and things just snowballed from there.

Although commonplace almost anywhere else, a latish Ovenbird was highly unexpected in a spot with barely a patch of trees, let alone an area with something of an understory. The bird’s somewhat startled impression, as it flitted out of a patch of bayberry, almost seemed to scream ‘what the heck am I doing here!’ It wasn’t alone in being the only woodland specialist skulking through the shrubbery, as almost immediately I had a Swainson’s Thrush scuttling along the edge of the hedge row, a genuinely good bird most places let alone a small patch of greenery smack bang in the middle of Chelsea.

Birds just kept coming and going through the morning, and before I knew it I had been circling the confines of that little park for about 4 hours. Having the camera with me is something of a blessing and a curse. It allows you to capture some of those birding moments for posterity but the time it takes to get shots eats into your birding time, so for me it’s a bit of a double edged sword.

Just to show how even the most common birds can cause of frisson of excitement when found out of context, three of my highlight species of the day wouldn’t cause most northeastern birders to bat an eyelid in almost any other circumstances. For me though a trio of birds that most birders probably hardly even consider migratory really made my day. Firstly the welcoming sound of a trio of Black-capped Chickadees caught my ear. These birds rarely nest in Central Park let alone nest in the tiny confines of the Little Park but here they were winging their way south through the trees (I also noted large numbers in Central Park on Sunday so it must be a fairly big movement year for them). The other two highlights a couple of wandering woodpeckers: first a Red-bellied and then even more unexpectedly, a little Downy. Usually these would have been glossed over on the way to finding better birds, but here in the context of the Little Park it gave them a new meaning and gave me a new appreciation of them (not that I don’t love Chickadees anyway – I mean who doesn’t!)

All in all a pretty exciting day in the park, with highlights being: 9 species of warbler (2 Nashvilles probably would have been the best species but for the conspicuously out of place Ovenbird), 3 White-crowned Sparrows, 1 Swainson’s Thrush and 1 Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Trip List (asterisk denotes new park species – notes on numbers where I can be bothered):

Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Osprey (2)*, Peregrine Falcon (1), 3 x Gull Species (Ring-billeds back in force), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)*, Northern Flicker (12), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1), Downy Woodpecker (1)*, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (3)*, Red-breasted Nuthatch (1)*, House Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet (4)*, Ruby-crowned Kinglet (6), Swainson’s Thrush (1)*, American Robin, Gray Catbird (20+), Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher (2)*, European Starling, Nashville Warbler (2)*, Northern Parula (4), Magnolia Warbler (3), Myrtle Warbler (3), Black-throated Green Warbler (1)*, Blackpoll Warbler (1), Palm Warbler (8), Ovenbird (1)*, Common Yellowthroat (15+), Scarlet tanager (3)*, Chipping Sparrow (2), Savannah Sparrow (2), Song Sparrow (10+), White-throated Sparrow (10+), White-crowned Sparrow (3)*, Dark-eyed Junco (4), House Sparrow.

NYC birding – beyond Central Park!

24 09 2010

Palm Warbler - Luke Tiller

Seems like I am not the only person getting some enjoyment birding NYC outside of the confines of Central Park. Check out 10000 birds (here) for adventures in Bryant Park – a whole host of incredible and fun shots. Hopefully I’ll be back at the little park this weekend for more fun and more pictures. I wonder what would happen if I set up hawkwatching there?

Little Park Birding – wot no warblers!

19 09 2010

Peregrine Falcon - Luke Tiller

Not much sign of migration at the little park this morning just a couple of Blackpolls and 2 Yellow Warblers along with the Common Yellowthroats. Still can’t complain as the Blackpoll is new for the park and a chance scan of the skies picked up a couple of Peregrine Falcons which I assume must be the local birds. Anyway I managed at least one shot I was vaguely happy with. OK time to get back to work on presentations for this week.

Little Park Birding – The Maggie and the Fly

14 09 2010

Magnolia Warbler and fly - Luke Tiller

Sunday morning showed how important even the littlest patches of greenery are in the city. Birding with the infamous 😉 birdspot we had a fun morning out tracking down these little feathered gems right in the heart of the city accompanied by the roar of Helicopters and West Side Highway Traffic. Amongst the good number of migrants was this little Magnolia Warbler that was looking for bugs on the lawn of one of the park piers.

The bird was so intent on getting some food after a long nights flying it seemed to just totally ignore me. They’ve done a lovely job with this park, so although it is small it has a few nice specimen trees, some bayberry (Yellow-rumped heaven!) a little ‘natural’ section (essentially a mix of native plants and some weeds!) and some nice decorative plantings.

The birds seemed happy enough to as they were all sticking around, which allowed me to come back later in the day with the camera (apart from the flycatcher which seemed to have decided to move on). Here’s the google map of the park (pre work completion obviously!) doesn’t look like much, but for these birds a safe haven right slap bang in the heart of NYC.

Trip List: Warblers: Tennessee (1), Northern Parula (1), Yellow (4), Black & White (1), N.Waterthrush (2), Palm (6 – western subspecies types), Common Yellowthroat (17), Magnolia (1). Others: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (1*), Bald Eagle, House Wren, Double-crested Cormorant, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird (1), Baltimore Oriole (1), Laughing Gull, MODO’s, 3 regular gull species, Cedar Waxwing, Gray Catbird (4), Northern Mockingbird (3), 3 introduced species. 1 American Kestrel.

*Well seen down to 15 feet and field marks including heavy breast streaking, yellow wash to throat and eyering, smallish bill, all orange lower mandible, slightly crested shape of large head, primary projection that seemed relatively long to me (compared to Least) and narrow looking tail. Bugger wouldn’t wait for me to go back to the apartment to get the camera though would he!

Little Park Birding

12 09 2010

Tennessee Warbler - Luke Tiller

Here’s the best of today’s rarities from the little park along the West Side Highway. Lots of intrigued looks from the locals as I hung out there for about 20 minutes waiting while this little bugger popped out. Eight species of warbler on the day: Palm, Tennessee, Northern Parula, Black & White, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia, Yellow and Northern Waterthrush. Other goodies included Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (maybe more about that in another post) and Bald Eagle. It’s amazing how productive this teeny tiny park along the Hudson is. Plus it fits into my joy of finding birds in the most unlikely of urban and suburban settings. The Yellow-bellied was just behind the carousel you can see in this NY Times article (here) and photo of the park (here).

The Eagle has landed…

10 04 2010

Brown Thrasher - Luke Tiller

on the West Side Highway. Well almost! Out today at the mini West Side Highway park a few new additions and a couple of smart birds for the day included incredible looks at a two sub-adult Bald Eagles low heading along the Highway and then circling back south and west. It was kind of interesting to see them this early in the morning and made me wonder where on earth they had spent the night as it was cool and the sun had been up for less than half an hour. Had they stopped off on a city roof somewhere the night before? Perched in a tree along the river? Something of a mystery!

Other nice additions to the now regular loop were a Brown Thrasher, a brief sighting as it disappeared from view before the girlfriend got on it (cue one mad girlfriend – only slightly placated by the fact she spotted the eagles), an Eastern Towhee, 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and a flyover Common Loon. A cold but rewarding mornings birding – made all the better by warming coffee at Cafe Joe.

The species list thus far (38)- new birds in capitals:

Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, COMMON LOON, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Cormorant, BALD EAGLE, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, Blue Jay, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, BROWN THRASHER, European Starling, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Sparrow

West Side Highway Birding

8 04 2010

Chipping Sparrow - Luke Tiller

So my new latest passion is going birding in this tiny little patch of greenery right off of the West Side Highway in NYC. With a week or so before I head into spring madness, trips to Colorado, NY State and North Carolina, I have decamped to my girlfriend’s flat in the city for some pre-touring schedule hangout time. Just a stones throw away from the apartment is a little sliver of greenery that has now become my temporary patch for the next few weeks. OK it’s actually a shared patch as the girlfriend is as equally obsessed with tracking down whatever feathered migrants might show up there in  the next few weeks as well.

Although the place is never likely to be inundated with birds, just the smallest welcoming habitat is proving to be a hit with exhausted migrants and we are quickly racking up a fairly decent little score of early migrant movement. Today we managed to add a couple of new species to the list including a few migrant Great Cormorants (with resplendent white breeding patches) heading up river, and a solo Field Sparrow that was making the most of a morning layover with a group of Dark-eyed Juncos.

As I said, numbers of birds overall aren’t high but each little new species adds some excitement to an early pre-work walk. Today’s list included a smattering of Junco’s, a Northern Flicker or two, a half dozen Juncos, 3 Palm Warblers, a handful of White-throats and the Field. A few pictures of the park here, here and here.

EDIT: Today’s highlights at the park: 1 Palm Warbler, 1 Eastern Towhee*, 1 Northern Cardinal*, 1 Field Sparow, 1 Savannah Sparrow*

* New species

The species list thus far (35)- new birds over last two days in capitals:

Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall,  Double-crested Cormorant, GREAT CORMORANT, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, Blue Jay, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, EASTERN TOWHEE, Chipping Sparrow, FIELD SPARROW, SAVANNAH SPARROW, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, NORTHERN CARDINAL, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Sparrow.

Despite everything – birds!

19 03 2010

The Park - West Side Highway NYC

After finding myself sans power on Sunday after the pretty devastating storm which hit Fairfield County on Saturday last week I retreated back to New York City  to stay with my girlfriend for a few days. She lives just a stones throw from the West Side Highway and the Hudson River in what real estate agents like to call Chelsea (it’s a fine line up there!!!). With winter finally appearing to break, I decided to see whether the glut of spring migrants I was expecting to follow the clearing of the ‘blocking weather’ that the storm had caused would even touch down on the little strips of ‘park’ that exist between 30th and 20th Streets just blocks from her house. Amazingly I was not to be disappointed, in what amounts to little more than a smattering of trees, a few patches of lawn and some areas that construe some type of ‘natural’ habitat there were birds to be found.

I’ve always had a soft spot for urban and suburban birding, perhaps because I’ve always been a city boy. There is also something beautiful and gratifying about discovering birds eking out a living in places that just seem so relatively unlikely. I love finding birds wedged between the industrial wastelands of Stratford and enjoy heading into the Big Apple to see the throngs of migrants that touch down in Central Park each year. I think there is something gratifying in seeing these birds making the most of a bad job and carrying on regardless of the obstacles that we have placed in their way. Here on the West Side Highway I’d discovered a Central Park in miniature. This little scratch of ‘habitat’ held a few migrant birds, probably somewhat shell shocked to find themselves flying over an endless concrete, steel and glass metropolis as sun rose they had flocked to what provided a best of a bad bunch choice that morning.

As I turned the corner off of the cycle path and into the pedestrianized area of the park I spotted my first true sign of spring, a lively Eastern Phoebe perched on a chickenwire fence scanning eagerly for flying insects. As I watched it, it flew a few times dipping down to the ground to inspect for morsels before again alighting on a conspicuous lookout perch. Phoebes to me are the real sign of spring – forget blackbirds they are always to be found should one look hard enough in winter, but the chances of a Phoebe making it through a full winter in the Northeast are pretty much slim to none. The bird called a few times as they always seem to do early in the season before the break into their full ‘song’, such as it is. A magical moment as my spring started with the accompaniment of the drone of West Side Highway traffic and the overhead throb of private helicopters touching down on the helipad just a few hundred yards upstream.

For me I guess part of the joy of seeing birds in this kind of environment is the incongruousness of it all. The idea of something completely wild showing up in the most unlikely of places. These migrants aren’t city birds like the pigeons, gulls and house sparrows but mere tourists on their way to something more recognizably home to them. I do sometimes wonder what they are thinking when they find themselves confronted with these somewhat confusing and hostile surrounds. As I arrived in the park I watched one unidentified passerine jump off from the park and head up into the great unknown northwards into the city. I found myself wanting to shout after him to come back and stick it out here from the day as it wasn’t going to find that it got much better. That said though in 30 or 40 blocks it might have spotted the haven of Central Park and spent the day hanging out with some more of its feathered brethren in much quieter and more appealing surrounds than a splash of greenery jammed between the dirty river and the constant cacophony of New York traffic.

Anyway the sight of these few waifs and strays on New Yorks west side made me think that this park might be a fun little place to check out over the spring to see what might possibly turn up. As well as the Eastern Phoebes (I found a second a little further down), the park also held 2 somewhat noteworthy Fox Sparrows, a handful of common sparrows: Junco, White-throated and Song, as well as an American Robin and a couple of Mockingbirds (staking out territory?) On the water as well as the ubiquitous three common gull species and Canada Geese were a flock of over 100 migrating Brant and a couple of American Black Ducks. I see a new bird list forming – West Side Park birds. An adventure to be continued…