Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2015 Christmas Bird Counts Recap...

In lieu of doing individual posts, I decided on a summary for all the CBC's I did in 2015.  This year, I managed to get in 4 Christmas Bird Counts. Three of them, Montauk, Captree and Southern Nassau were on Long Island while the other one was in the Bronx/Westchester. In two of those counts I am an area leader--Captree and the Bronx. This requires a bit more work than just showing up to count as, recruitment, planning, coordination and execution are all critical ingredients for a successful count.

I am a firm believer that a leader, is only as good as the team he or she surround themselves with so I am always looking at match-ups and recruitment along with skills as a package. Some folks are of the opinion that only skilled birders are required but I encourage new birders to participate in the counts because this is the way to grow and develop the team. 

A few "dodgy" looking characters sheltering from the wind.
The first count for 2015 that I participated in was in Montauk LI, on December 19th. This count, required a bit of driving since it is all the way out on Eastern Long Island and is one of my favorite. Mostly, due to the camaraderie and hosting provided by Karen and Barbara Rubinstein, Angus Wilson, Naoko Tanese and Vickie Bustamante. Additionally, the last few years I have driven up the day before with Tom Burke and Gail Benson and that is one of my favorite things to do. My Montauk team is the Lake West Drive Team laden with some "dodgy" but highly skilled characters. The toughest part of the count is the seawatch which often times is conducted in weather only crazy folks would be out in. I recall one year that it was so cold, some of us were experiencing a situation where our eyelashes were getting iced up. Not this year.  Although windy, it was not too bad. We ended up with a total of 111 species despite battling strong West to Northwest winds all day. The highlights were Ash-throated Flycatcher, Green Heron, Dovekie, Clapper Rail, Virginia Rail, King Eider, Short-Eared Owl, Snowy Owl and Common Redpoll. I opted not to stay for the compilation dinner but stayed over night on Long Island thanks to the generosity of my friends Patricia Lindsay and Shai Mitra.

This is a sought after bird on most of our CBCs.
Staying overnight on Long Island saved me the long drive into and back from Queens. The next morning on December 20th, I linked up with Joan Quinlan and we did our morning Owling as I began my second CBC of the year, the Captree Count. As Captain of the Seatuck area, I had several teams covering a number of areas plus I had mine to cover. Unlike our "Black Rail" year, Joan and I did not have anything spectacular but we had a good time. Our Captree overall count was "122 species way above our ten-year high which was achieved without any boreal irruptive species" (Shai Mitra and Pat Lindsay). The highlights being, Tufted Duck, Long-billed Dowitcher, Prairie, Nashville and Orange-crowned Warblers and a Lincoln Sparrow. We did not have any saves this year but my Seatuck team did a great job and we hope to do even better next year.

Yellow-belied Sapsucker is always a good bird to get.
On December 27th, I participated in the Bronx/Westchester CBC. I have done this count for several years with different teams. This year was a bit different as it was my first crack at Captaining the West Bronx. Bronx birding, has a special place in my heart for many reasons including the history and I was excited at a chance to contribute to a great tradition. It was challenging as the West Bronx, covers a lot of territory which requires a lot of bodies to get ample coverage. Despite a few regulars not being able to participate, we held our own and did reasonably well. Karen Hue was my partner in crime and we got off to a good start by picking up Eastern Screech Owl in Van Cortlandt Park around 4:30 a.m. in the morning before heading off to our own turf, which was the Bronx Botanical Garden.  Overall, the count ended up with 114 species with the highlights being, Black-and-White Warbler, Snowy Owl, Great Egret, Laughing Gull, Barred Owl, Saw-whet Owl, Nashville Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler. Our West Bronx team had a total of 61 species with 2 saves, Red-breasted Nuthatch (Bronx Botanical Garden Team) and Nashville Warbler (Woodlawn Cemetery team).

Red-breasted Nuthatch another good CBC bird.
My final CBC was on January 2nd, when I participated in the Southern Nassau CBC. This was my final CBC of 2015 and we had a good turn out with over 80 participants. I was on the Atlantic team led by Rich Kelly. My team and I found the seabirds to be scarce but we pounded it out. I coaxed Joan Quinlan out to join me and to cover my areas for Atlantic. Overall, the count recorded 130 species which was the highest for all the CBCs taking the crown once again. Our highlights included Osprey recorded by the Atlantic and Bladwin team was the first ever recorded on count day, Lark Sparrow (Atlantic Team) and Ravens (Massapequa Team) were the second only ever record for the count. Other notables included Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, 3 Pine Warblers, 4 Orange-crowned Warblers, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue-winged Teal Northern Saw-whet Owl and Baltimore Oriole to name a few. The final count was wrapped up with the traditional dinner at Otto's Sea Grill.

These counts require a lot of planning and the compilers/organizers do a lot of the work which involves getting permits, assigning captains their roles, assisting in plugging team gaps and most important dealing with the various personalities. You would be amazed at some of the "drama" that some birders are into. I want to acknowledge and thank all the compilers and organizers, Notably, Karen and Barbara Rubinstein, Angus Wilson, Naoko Tanese, Vickie Bustamante, Shai Mitra, Patricia Lindsay, Michael Bochnick and his wife and anyone else whose contribution to organizing, planning each CBC and making them possible. Thank You!

If anyone is interested in joining my West Bronx Team for 2016, please e-mail me at, I am already getting my teams lined up. Note: If you are into the drama thing, pretend that you did not see this request!

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Banded Ring-billed Gulls in Queens NY

On November 27th 2015, I documented several banded Ring-billed Gulls while doing Gull studies at Breezy Point in Queens.  All of the bands were reported to the banding station in Quebec Canada where there is an ongoing research program on the ecology of Ring-billed Gulls. I received word from Professor Jean - Francois Giroux who sent me information about all of the birds--see the certificates below. Note that BHJ5 was seen in Brooklyn earlier in the year.

Banded Ring-billed Gull 1TH.
Banded Ring-billed Gull HJ5

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Monday, January 4, 2016

A Year End Review: My Top Ten Birding Moments of 2015

I have been so busy planning and executing Christmas Bird Counts, that I am behind on a few blog posts. One that could no longer be delayed is the annual or should I say semi-annual (I might have missed one or two) posts covering birding highlights of the year.  With two trips to Asia in 2015 you could bet that some of those birds will be on this list so without further ado this is my top ten.

10. Two overwintering Baltimore Orioles in my backyard how could they not make my top 10.

These two Baltimore Orioles stayed all winter and I kept them fed and happy throughout those cold days. They departed sometime after mid April as the weather got warmer. Surely this experience deserved a top ten mention. A blog post with photos and video was published on March 21st 2015. If you missed it, here is the link.

9. Yellow-throated Warbler at Valley Stream State Park Nassau County

Nothing says Spring migration is on like a Yellow-throated Warbler. These sweet looking warblers are starting to become a yearly thing with the possibility of breeding occurring on Long Island NY. A sure sign of more southern species expanding their range.

8. Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY

Shane Blodgett who puts in a lot of Gull work found yet another Mew Gull in Brooklyn NY. This time it was Larus canus brachyrhynchus the NA subspecies of Mew Gull. I had crippling views of this bird the second time I went looking for it...ironically to help a friend who never showed up. I am on the hunt for one in my home county of Queens so study time with this bird was of utmost importance. A definite top 10.

7. South Polar Skua NY overnight Pelagic with See Life Paulagics.
I finally fulfilled a goal of mine to yell "SKUA" at the top of my lungs on an overnight See Life Paulagics on June 1st. If you have not yet ventured out on a NY Pelagic, I highly recommend See Life Paulagics. Operated by Paul and Anita Guris who are both super nice and knowledgeable (they did not pay me to say this). You cannot go wrong in their capable hands. The line up of leaders include some of NY's finest birders. You can't miss Paul with his often beaming smile and teaching mode on full. Just don't bring any bananas on-board or you might be used as "chum."

6. Nothing, I repeat Nothing brings me such joy like a flock of shorebirds!
Many birders get weak at the knees for warblers or some specialty bird. Me, I am my happiest when surrounded by shorebirds. It does not matter if they are all Semipalmated Sandpipers or any of our other common shorebirds, I just love me some shorebirds. This was a mixed flock of shorebirds observed in the Jiangsu Province in China.

5. Multiple Red-necked Stints including a banded one in Jiangsu China.
Seeing multiple Red-necked Stints is one thing but to see them in some semblance of breeding plumage and one with a band was something that had me grinning from ear to ear. Shorebirds are the shiznit!

4. Blue-crowned Laughing Thrush China.
An endemic to China, there is a chance that additional populations may be uncovered but at the moment, this species is listed by Birdlife as critically endangered. Being able to see it made this moment a definite top 10.
3. Relict Gull, Dongling China
This was a very special one for me. Having being gripped off by my mate James Phillips from Natural England after he and his teammates saw their life Relict Gull. I was delighted that I was able to erase that deficit on 10-8-15 when I laid eyes on my own Relict Gull and not just one but two. The crippling views and equally sweet flight shots made for a good come back.

2. Spoon-billed Sandpiper (headstarter bird T8) China
When Ronald Dibgy from the UK, confirmed this was a "headstarter" bird, I was thrilled. This was my very first banded Headstarter Spoon-billed Sandpiper and I was delighted that I was able to read the flag (T8) and get adequate supporting documentation in the form of photos and videos. Headstarting, is part of the conservation breeding program for Spoon-billed Sandpipers in which specialists take eggs from incubating birds into captivity and raise the chicks by hand to fledging age in the Russian Far East, before they are released back into the wild.

1. Spoon-billed Sandpiper (01) China
I could easily have used the moment of holding my first Spoon-billed Sandpiper in my hands, as I helped to band in the first ever project of its kind in Jiangsu China. Instead, I chose to use the photo and moment of seeing 01, nicknamed "monumental one," the most famous Spoon-billed Sandpiper of them all. The one whose lineage is mostly responsible for this species making a comeback (I am optimistic). I had all but given up seeing this bird and there were days when I logged up to 10 KM on the flats not just looking for this one in particular but always hoping. When I finally set my eyes on 01 in Yankou China, my heart was pounding so much, I could not keep my hands steady until I calmed myself down. I was so giddy with excitement, one would have thought I was a little boy with his first love. Indeed, shorebirds are my first love and this fella made all the work and sacrifices worthwhile and deserves to be number ONE on my top ten list. So there you have it, my Top Ten birding moments of 2015 and what a year it was. I am going to be hard pressed to beat that in 2016 but I am of to a good start with a fantastic run of good birds in New York and it is only January 4th.

A good year of birding is always best when you achieve goals and see good birds. However, in addition to the birds, there is the people experience and I am VERY lucky to have a small but excellent group of people who play an important role in my North American birding. In no order I can't say thank you enough to Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Shai Mitra, Particia Lindsay, Doug Futuyma, Steve Walter, Joan Quinlan, Joe Giunta, Eric Miller and all the other people (too many to list) who tolerate my company. My non NA peeps--Jamieboy, AdamdaGrettonator, Nigel Clarke, Guy Anderson, Professor Chang, Professor Ma, Hebo Peng, Miao, Anna Zhang, Zhang Lin, Jing Li and David Melville. Thank you for your friendship--I think you know how much I value each and everyone of you! Happy New Year to all my readers and thank you for staying faithful.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wordless Wednesday...

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Van Cortlandt Park Wetlands At Risk With Putnam Paving Plans...

Copyright Catherine Young
NYC Parks after a lot of pressure from many activists put plans on hold for a planned paving of the Putnam Trail which was supposed to take effect on 2013. However, an article in The Riverdale Press indicates that they are still pressing on despite the many solid arguments that putting a blacktop in that area would have negative effects to the surrounding wetlands.

Here is the deal, I am not engineer to tell you whether this plan is going to work well with the surrounding area -- I don't know. What I will say, is that any disturbance to an area that has become a home to wildlife is never a good thing. And we are supposed to be protecting these last vestiges of habitat in our City...right?

Having seen nesting Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers all along the trail while leading bird walks in the park, it saddens me to think that they will all be forced to move and maybe lost to those who enjoyed their presence.

The folks advocating the paving have presented plans with promises of planting trees to replace the ones that are taken down but what these "experts" don't tell you is that saplings cannot replace old growth or dead trees used by cavity nesting birds like Woodpeckers or Screech Owls...which I have seen along the trail.  They have used the argument that the paving of the trail as being critical to access by folks with strollers, cyclists and wheel chair users. That is fine but what opponents to the paving have proposed is an alternative to the use of pavement that seems viable with less impact.

If you want to learn more, visit the Save The Putnam Trail website, which has lots of information on the planned paving and the possible impact.
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