Month: January 2017

Hateful Things About Birdwatching (Inspired by Sei Shonagon’s “Hateful Things”)

The moment you get your binoculars on a bird it flies away.

You birdwatch with a group. A good bird is spotted. When you get on the bird, someone moves to stand in front of you, blocking your view. Or, an overenthusiastic someone comes to stand beside you, jolting your arms away. The someone doesn’t realize what they did.

A warbler plays hide-and-seek behind thick foliage.

You are observing a raft of ducks and find a mystery duck. Just as you begin to study it for diagnostic markings, the duck takes off.

The accipiter sp. is silent.

The bird is between you and the sun. Back-lighting ruins your enjoyment of looking at the bird. You have no way of circumventing so that the sun is behind you. The dark splotch doesn’t care.

Your binoculars won’t stop fogging up.

You are observing a special bird. A raptor appears out of nowhere and catches the bird for a meal.

Someone in your group spots a bird. Initially, others struggle but eventually get on it. Everyone but you sees it.

You are on a bird. While trying to move to view it from a different angle, you trip.

You deceive yourself into thinking that any moving inanimate natural object is a bird. Falling leaves are especially irksome. Or, you spend minutes trying to identify a bird, and you finally discern it is actually a stump. Or, you are birdwatching by car, catch a glimpse of a large bird among a clump of trees, and turn around to get a better look – only to learn to that what you saw is a tattered paper sign billowing in the wind.

There are no birds.

You leisurely spend time observing a bird. Suddenly, a loose dog runs close by and the bird takes off. The dog’s owner is nowhere to be seen.

It is raining.

It is very windy. The birds have taken cover and refuse to come out. This is especially loathsome during a Christmas Bird Count.

A perched passerine faces away from you. You can only see its back. It won’t ever turn around, or budge. The bird is all back.

You chase a bird. You arrive, but you just missed it.

You chase a bird. The location is far from where you live. You spend hours trying to find it with no success. You leave. Sometime after, the bird is spotted again.

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Brinton Brook Hike, Report 1-2017

To sum up this month’s hike immediately, it was quiet. I observed a couple spurts of activity. Any other time, though, I was met with silence when I stopped to listen. I counted 19 species – same as last year’s January hike – but the numbers for each species were underwhelming.

(Before anyone else arrived, Mike and I found 13 used condoms strewn around the parking lot. Maybe the orgy scared off the birds.)

Our group consisted of 9 people, many of whom were familiar faces and regulars. I lagged behind half the time to concentrate on birding.

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Paper Wasp nest revealed. The pond is frozen, so no herons or ducks for us. © S.G. Hansen

A woodpecker tapped away continuously some fifty feet away from the pond. I couldn’t see the bird, so I challenged myself to find it. I didn’t want to guess which woodpecker in order to add it to the list, and I also I didn’t want to leave it off the list not having known what it was. The pecking sounded more like hacking, and was strong and constant. Perhaps a Pileated? I moved around to get different angles. Meanwhile, two female Hairy Woodpeckers nearby engaged in a scuffle, squeaking, thus prompting two Carolina Wrens to buzz. More than five minutes passed after I nearly gave up and continued walking on the trail. Then I spotted the woodpecker – a male Pileated. I had trouble because it turned out that the Pileated was on the side of a large branch facing away from the pond.

I caught up with the group, still on the pond trail.

“There’s a decapitated female Mallard under the holly,” Mike said.

Tell-tale signs of a dead duck were around us: a bloody spot on a rock and a clump of down feathers. Everyone had seen them as they went along, then when Mike walked over to the holly tree by the trail to determine its sex, and he found the mallard’s body.

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Looks fresh. We’re in a duck horror film. © S.G. Hansen

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Headless body of female Mallard Duck. Croton will soon have the Legend of the Headless Duck haunting their streets. © S.G. Hansen

The headless mallard won Highlight of the Hike for this month.

The hike up to the power lines, along the power lines, and down from the power lines was incredibly quiet. Whatever I heard and saw was by the individual, including American Crow and Turkey Vulture (something other than the usual winter flock). I spent the rest of the hike talking or watching where I placed my feet. I wasn’t discouraged by the incredible lack of bird activity. I greatly enjoyed the silence. With the recent increase of homeowners hiring leaf blower and lawnmower service in the area this past year, winter seems to now be the only true quiet season of the year.

At the very end of the hike, by the part of the brook near the parking lot, we encountered a spurt of activity. We flushed up to 50 juncos down brook. They took off one by one, twittering en masse. A robin ate from a lone winterberry bush. Atop the group of black birch trees, around 30 goldfinches and at least 1 Cedar Waxwing fed on the seeds.

We finished the hike in less than 2 hours. Not a record low, but still short. We had plenty of time to kill before the soup lunch at Croton Point Park, where people from Charlie Roberto’s eagle walk and people from the nature center’s Project Feedewatch would also be gathering. Gerry Weinstein, who was on the hike with us, took us around his property again for a bit (his property is next to the sanctuary, and the Weinstein Family recently protected 18 acres of their land adjacent to Brinton Brook with a conservation easement through the Westchester Land Trust). Rudy – lead sanctuary volunteer – found these feathers while searching for owl pellets underneath a clump of cedar trees. Judging by the size the color pattern, I’d guess these belonged to a Downy Woodpecker.

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Woodpecker feathers, presumably Downy (purposely arranged). Thanks for spotting them, Rudy! © S.G. Hansen

For the full species list, you may look here.

My 2017 Resolutions

Now into my fourth year of birdwatching, I am only just considering New Year’s resolutions. I’ve come up unwritten vague goals in the past. Hardly anything came of them, unsurprisingly. But writing/typing words down has a general psychological effect, and I do try keep up my blog consistently, hence… I was inspired to create a post after reading The Birdist’s recent contribution to National Audubon’s news site.

1a. Taking off from The Birdist’s first goal, I should not only re-learn warbler songs, but remember them. I can replay a couple easier songs in my head, such as the Yellow, the Prairie, and the American Redstart. I can do better than this, being an amateur musician. I plan to listen to different audio recordings repeatedly. I have a CD from a Saw Mill River Audubon workshop and I must take advantage of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. Viewing Lang Elliot’s YouTube videos would also be constructive; this would help me to associate the sound with an image.

1b. I should get out more during the high point of spring migration. Westchester County mostly sees migrants. I want to observe warblers more often, and especially get more and better looks of the ones I have on my life list (at least 10, but the top ones are Cerulean, Hooded, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, and Canada). I need to see an Ovenbird and a Tennessee, which I’ve only heard. I also need to see an adult Louisiana Waterthrush – I tentatively added this waterthrush to my life list having seen a fledgling once. Adding new species isn’t much of a concern, but I’m always happy with surprise lifers. I already have a couple hotspots in mind – Doodletown, Fahnestock – but I’m going to research into more.

2. Inspired by eBird, I will visit a location every week. I have one in mind and am already at it. As far as I can tell from eBird, I’m the only person to submit checklists for this location. Since it’s not an official hotspot, I will not mention it here. The road rather private and dangerous to drive on, but it runs adjacent to the Croton Reservoir. From what I’ve seen a couple times last winter, this location has good ducks. I wonder what else is there….

3. Get over my anxiety about driving by myself to long-distance places I’ve never been to. Reviewing directions and a map is not enough to assuage my anxiety. I don’t have one of those phones with a built-in GPS, so I need to purchase a GPS. Just in case if I feel like chasing a bird alone.

4. Be more involved in my local chapter. As of this week, I’m an interim board member. I’ve yet to see where I stand exactly, though I wish to donate my time to a couple things. One: Lead or co-lead walks for adults and/or children, thus bringing more people into birdwatching and becoming more aware of birds and environmental conservation. Two: aid in taking care of our sanctuaries. Three: reach out to the public about native and invasive plants, and about planting natives in one’s garden/yard to benefit birds. (Maybe also spread how horrible lawns are. Death to lawns.) And with concerning Number 3, I need to familiarize myself more with invasives and identify them in the field all year round.

Let’s go!