Monday, May 30, 2016

Birding in Central Park, finally

I've been a birder now for nearly five and a half years.  Yet I had never birded in Central Park.  I had been in Central Park at least a dozen times prior to becoming a birder and very likely noticed no more than pigeons and ducks.  But I've long since known that the park is a birders haven, especially during spring migration.  Unfortunately, as the late great Toronto Blue Jays radio voice, Tom Cheek, was often fond of saying, I was a day late and a dollar short, for this year's migration.  A week earlier, and well, I don't even want to think about it.

Still, there were birds and there were birders and I visited parts of the park I had never been to, including Strawberry Fields and The Ramble, both great places for spring warblers and a variety of other spieces that live in or pass through Central Park in May.

I began on Monday morning, a rare day off from baseball and was able to spend the whole day in the park.  I would later discover there had been a Curlew Sandpiper seen 3 hours away in New Jersey, but two things worked against me there.  First, had I found out about it early enough in the day, I'd have had to get a Zip car and drive both out of and back into midtown Manhattan.  Secondly, my rules state I can only count birds in states where the Blue Jays play baseball, during the baseball season.

Central Park is BIG!  Manhattan is bigger and navigating the streets to get to the park is an adventure.  There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the cars and pedestrians.  It's like a game where the drivers try to run up as close as possible to other cars and pedestrians without hitting them, and pedestrians attempt to navigate the streets getting as close to being hit as possible, without actually being hit by the myriad cars and trucks that continually blast their horns and ignore red lights.

But once you do get within the park boundaries, there are a couple of places that, when you have limited time, you need to find.  First, Strawberry Fields, where I discovered on my last day that wild strawberries are actually growing, and The Ramble.  Just a small piece of advice, when asking a park employing for directions.  Don't ask, "Can you direct me to the rambling."  Almost as bad as pronouncing "Flor-e-da Canyon" as in the state of Florida.  I've done both.

It took a whole day, but I did see a few good warblers, and added a Gray-cheeked Thrush to my Year List.  But I had to call it a day early, by around 4pm, as I had developed several blisters on my toes, and it was affecting my walking and my right knee was in severe pain.  It was a long walk back to the hotel, with a stop at the 5th Avenue Apple Store.  It was extremely crowded with a 5-1 ratio of customers to staff.  It was a happening place.  Which was in stark contrast to the Microsoft store further up 5th Avenue.  I think there were about 15-20 staff and maybe 5 customers.  

The next few days I had limited time in the morning and had to walk with my blistered toes wrapped in cotton balls and band aids, while my right knee ached.  Wednesday morning I did something that made me forget all about the pains in my feet and right knee.  I got caught behind a long stretch of park benches.  I either had to walk all the way around them, or just step over.  How hard could that be?  Well the sides of the benches are made of cement and about 6 inches higher than the horizontal wood slats that make up the back of the bench.  My left knee slammed hard into the cement, making me think I broke it and was going to have to pay $3.99 a minute to have a rickshaw driver run my back to the hotel or emergency.  I sat on the ground for a bit, tried not to throw up, drank some water and after about 10 minutes decided to just walk it off.  It's still sore 3 days later, and causing me pain in the rest of my left leg.

Wednesday was the return of the warblers to Central Park. From Strawberry Field to the Ramble there were birds everywhere.  I was about half an hour late for a Mourning Warbler, but there were plenty of Canada, Magnolia, Redstarts, Catbirds that made strange kiss-y sounds I've never heard before.  There were Parulas, Blackburnians, Blackpolls and Wilson's, along with lots of Red-eyed Vireos, and to top it all off, new bird for the year, an Olive-sided Flycatcher high atop a dead tree in the Ramble.

I finished off at Strawberry Field trying again for the Mourning Warbler, but did add Cedar Waxwings and a teasing Ovenbird to the day list, before heading to Yankee Stadium where the only birds I could list were a flock of Rock Pigeons hanging out at second base.

My final morning saw me limping back to Strawberry Field a little earlier than the previous day, hoping to be early enough for the Mourning Warbler, and I was rewarded with a 5-10 second look at the Mourning Warbler skulking in a bush before it flew off into the woods, not to be seen again that morning.  Another one, maybe two, were seen down by the Oak Bridge leading into The Ramble.  I along with a dozen other birders, who seemed to materialize out of nowhere, all gathered hoping to find the other Mourning Warbler, but with no luck by the time I had to head out.  I made one more pass though Strawberry Field where I added one more new bird for the year, a Tennassee Warbler high in a tree, flitting around with a bunch of Red-eyed Vireos.  

All in all, Central Park was a great place to bird everyday while I was staying in Manhattan.  I met dozens of birders who somehow get to spend their weekday mornings in the park.  A guy named Bob takes groups out every morning as well.  I get to return in August and September, just on time for Fall Migration in the Park.

There actually were strawberries growing in Strawberry Field:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Urban Birding in Minneapolis

So you're in Minneapolis.  Perhaps you came to pose for a selfie with the bronze statue of Mary Tyler Moore.  Perhaps you might throw your beret in the air and catch it before it hits the pavement.  Or maybe birding is more your thing.

Well, within half a half hour drive of Mary in Bronze, there are birding habitats galore.  Me and my Zip Cars found a few of them these past four days.  I had hoped to add a few missing warblers and perhaps a Black-billed Cuckoo.   Minneapolis is in Hennepin County and after checking on e-Bird I picked a small handful of places to check out in my mornings before heading to Target Field.  

My first stop was Westwood Hills Nature Center.  A lovely place with a variety of habitats spread over woodlands, boardwalks, cat tails and canopy woods.  Most of the warblers had moved on but Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and singing Yellow Warblers were in abundance.  

The next morning I checked out TS Roberts Bird Sanctuary, a small, canopy covered set of paths next to a cemetery.  A week ago it probably was very lively, but not that morning.  So I didn't stay long.  I did get to see a Baltimore Oriole gathering nesting materials before I headed to Minnesotta NWR.  Between listening to the calls of American Redstarts, watching a House Wren gathering nesting materials, and a displaying Wild Turkey, the big news of the day was the arrival of Indigo Buntings.  They seemed to be everywhere around the park, putting on a lovely show for all present.

By late yesterday afternoon I had not yet added any new Year Birds and I wanted to add at least one on this trip.  So, after a tough loss to the Twins on Saturday afternoon I headed back to Westwood Hills.  I walked along the boardwalk and enjoyed a nice variety of species including lots of Baltimore Orioles.  There was also a Canada Goose family.  Unfortunately one of the parents had an injuired foot and was having trouble keeping up with the rest of them as they walked the boardwalk.  I would later find out that it had been bitten by a Snapping Turtle the previous evening.

Nearing the end of the day, I still needed one new species.  So, before I left, I headed up to the Interpretive Cener and hung out their hummingbird feeders.  After 10 minutes I was rewarded with a female Ruby-throated.  Satisfied with the addition of species 293 for the ABA List this year, I headed back downtown and a nice dinner.  The rest of the time was city birding, including taking a walk this morning to the Mississippi River,(no riverboats, alas), and birded around Father Hennepin Bluffs Park.  

So, when traveling to Minnesota for work or to visit family or to attend one of their famous meat raffles, bring your binoculars.  The birding there is great.  Just remember, if going in the spring, arrive about a week earlier than I did for your best shot at migrating birds.

Next stop, New York City, Baby!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Warbler Fest in Col. Sam Smith Park

I had a feeling it was coming.  There just had not yet been THE day of warbler activity here in Toronto.  I was gone a week and still they were waiting.  And when it did start, it only seemed to last a couple of hours.  Not much was going on in the park Monday morning, but with rain on Monday night I made sure to be at Col. Sam early Tuesday morning.  And oh, what a show.  There were birds everywhere!  It was not exactly a fallout, but there were more birds everywhere than I had seen in the park at any one time in years.  Within minutes I had seen a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo and a Canada Warbler.  

Over the next 90 minutes there were more than 40 species going to and fro amongst the bushes and tree.  There were Philadelphia, Blue-headed, Warblling and Red-eyed Vireo.  There were warblers gallor and I was able to add 12 new species from my two mornings of birding Col. Sam.  I found a couple of Lincoln's Sparrows and finally, my first Baltimore Oriole of the year, bringing my year list to 292 species.  It's a shame that more of the local birders I see nearly every day in Col. Sam during migration weren't there to share in the wealth of birds.  

This may be my last real migration birding in Ontario, as I am leaving tonight for 4 days in Minnesotta and 4 in New York.  But it was a great way to end my short trip home.  I've got some ideas of where to go within a half hour of where we are staying in Minneapolis.  There should be a good chance for Cerulian, Mourning and Golden-winged Warblers.  I'll check e-bird in the morning and head out early. 

As always, more adventures await discovery.

Friday, May 13, 2016

When in Dallas-Fort Worth, Go Birding!

Yes, it's not the Rio Grande Valley, but if you're here on business or for a convention or just checking out Dealy Plaza to see grassy knoll,(and I have done just that, twice), there are numerous places to go birding within a half hour drive of Fort Worth.  I spent Thursday checking out a number of the them.  Some better than others and others probably better at different times of year.  Still, I added 8 species to the year list, including a Lifer, a Mississippi Kite.  Seems strange that it took half a dozen trips for me to score this bird, but it was Lifer Number 2 for the trip, giving me 846 for the ABA List.

I reserved a rental car just that morning and my first stop was to the River Legacy Parks area.  Several spots proved to be good birding.  The first was a stretch of path beginning at Green Oaks Rd where it was a festival of Dickcissels.  It was also supposed to be good for the Mississippi Kite, but that would have to wait until later.  I did see Painted Bunting and Orchard Oriole, before moving on to the main entrance to the River Legacy Park.  There, I was supposed to see Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the long red flowers in one of the parking lots.  Instead, I heard a Barred Owl, got a dozen mosquito bites while checking out Carolina Chickadees in the woods next to the parking lot and spied the first of three Mississippi Kites I would see that day.

After giving up on the hummingbird for the time being, I ventured on to River Legacy East, where, wouldn't you know it, I found the first of 3 Black-chinned Hummingbirds I would see that day, along with a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

From there I checked out Cedar Ridge Preserve, where I saw two more Mississippi Kites, and added a Yellow-billed Cuckoo to the list.  Next was Twelve Hills Nature Center, a small urban space created by and for the people who live nearby.  White Rock Lake and Fish Hatcherywas the next stop, where, in addition to adding Bell's Vireo to the year list, I enjoyed watching Monk Parakeets preparing their nests and saw the cutest little baby Wood Ducks.  Down the road a bit at Wite Rock Lake Park I found a lone Wilson's Phalarope at the edge of the dam, where a number of Spotted Sandpipers were enjoying  walking on the inclined concrete wall,(or not).

Over all a pretty good day of birding in and around the urban environs of Dallas-Fort Wortrh.  Day two was not quite as productive as I only had limited time to bird within walking distance of the hotel, but did enjoy a walk through the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.

Yesterday was my last morning and my research into the area convinced me that Benbrook-Holiday Park was the place to be and it didn't disappoint.  The park's day use area is built around the Benbrook Reservoir.  There were hundreds of Franklin's Gulls, dozens of Black Terns, Westrern, Baird's, Least, Spotted, Semipalmated and White-rumped Sandpipers.  There were American Avocets, Wilson's Phalaropes and even a lone Whimbrel.

Today was a quick birding walk in downtown Fort Worth before heading to our last game against the Rangers in Arlington.  Tonight, once again, I am writing from 35,000 feet, as we head back to Toronto.  My first west coast trip added 60 species to my year list.  The next 3 days will be spent hunting warblers in Col. Sam Smith and Tommy Thompson Parks.  I'm hoping the late migration and cooler weather will result in some good sightings before heading to Minnesota and New York.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

West Coast, Bird Coast

PIt's amazing what you can do in two mornings of birding in California.  I didn't have a lot of time, but with the help of Eddie. and Noreen, my San Francisco birding buddies, Monday morning proved to be quite productive, including the addition of ABA Lifer 645, a bird I have long sought and never seen before, a Wandering Tattler off the Cliff House.  That was the good news.  The bad news was my camera, which has been so reliable, failed to get an in-focus photo the first part of the morning.  Grrrrr!

I was able to add a lovely 39 species to my year list. One of the places you need to visit in San Francisco, whether you have a full day or just a few hours of birding are the community gardens of Fort Mason. It was, in fact, the first place Noreen and Eddie had taken me back in 2012.  Amongst the many birds we got there, was a flyover of an Elegant Tern, along with Ash-throated Flycatcher, Anna's and Allen's Hummingbird,
 Pygmy Nuthatch, a California Towhee and a Western Tanager, found by Noreen, way up a tree.

The Presido and Cliff House are also must bird stops. It was on the rocks below that with the help of Eddie's scope I was able to finally see a Wandering Tattler.  This was our third trip together and it was the charm. I should have tried a digiscope shot first, as at that point I hadn't realized my camera was not taking focused photos, as seen above and below.

The Tattler is at the lower edge, but with a slightly fuzzy image it sure does blend into the rocks.  It didn't help that it was overcast and misty, with very flat light.

 From the Cliff House and on the shores below, we were able to get Whimbrel, Common Murre, Black Oystercatcher, Surfbirds and even a lone Black Turnstone.

Lake Merced always seems to turn up some good birds, and in this case a Clark's Grebe and a lovely breeding plumage Ruddy Duck with that cool blue bill.  There also always seems to be an American Coot walking around on land showing off his "rail" feet.  In this case below, foot as something bad had happened to one of his feet.

Our final stop was Sweeny Ridge, were we found Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bewick's Wren, an Orange-crowned Warbler, Western Scrub-Jay and ended the morning with a California Thrasher and Vaux's Swift.

The next day I was on my own and spent most of my time at Mount Davidson.  Great birding and a great view of San Fancisco as well.  I was able to add 4 new species up there, including a Steller's Jay and Black-headed Grosbeak.

I also visited Crissy Field in the Presedio,(nothing new there), and finished off a the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, where it was get in Free day, and I was able to add a Pacific Wren, Bushtit and Nuttal's Woodpecker before having to rush off to work.

Next stop: Texas