A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 28 December 2015

New York Trip Report - Days 5 & 6 (Green-wood Cemetery, Prospect Park & Niagara Falls)

Days 5 & 6 -  Monday 25th May & Tuesday 26th May 2015

The next day we decided to concentrate on finding one of the missing species so far on our trip and one that we had thought we were guaranteed to see – Veery. With a lady at Prospect Park on Saturday mentioning she had seen them in abundance at Green-wood Cemetery, we took the tube back down to Brooklyn again in the hope of catching up with this tiny ginger thrush.
Greenwood Cemetery, New York
The tombstones at Green-wood Cemetery
Starting off the morning at Prospect Park, it was now evident that migration was most definitely reaching the tail end, with just single male Chestnut-sided and Blackpoll Warbler along with a couple of Common Yellowthroats and American Redstarts flitting about the trees in a 45 minute period. This was a complete contrast to Saturday morning when the woods were absolutely alive with activity and birds were positively dripping off the trees in comparison! It really goes to show just how incredible a fall of birds can be.

Walking around the lake and keeping our eyes peeled for the pair of Belted Kingfishers that had been seen yesterday, a Song Sparrow stood out from the numerous Red-winged Blackbirds nesting in the reeds, their distinctive calls carrying across the water. The large swallow flock from two days ago had also reduced in numbers, with just a handful of Chimney Swifts chattering above the surface of the water. I managed to pick out a Tree Swallow again fluttering over the waves, the iridescent marine blue plumage shining out, but the increase of pedal boat numbers due to people enjoying the gorgeous weather on what was a bank holiday meant there was very little bird activity.
Birds Revenge....
The birds revenge on Alex...
Red-spotted Purple Butterfly showed extremely well at the edge of the water, and despite having a plastic sheet detailing the common New York butterflies, this was the only species we managed to positively ID (and the only one that actually remained still enough to do so!)
Red-spotted Purple Butterfly - Prospect Park, New York
Red-spotted Purple Butterfly
We headed through the bustling Brooklyn Streets and on to Green-wood Cemetery, stopping to get some refreshing juice in the heat. A small falcon flew overhead above the apartment blocks, and although probably the first American Kestrel of the trip, I didn’t get enough on it to get a positive ID before it had sped off over the trees.

Green-wood Cemetery held a variety of birds that we otherwise hadn’t seen in Prospect Park. A Chipping Sparrow hopped along the road pecking at the crumbs left behind by relatives visiting their loved ones, while a House Finch foraging by the side of the leaf strewn path was only the second of our trip. 
Downy Woodpecker - Greenwood Cemetery, New York
This Downy Woodpecker got our hopes up as being a Hairy before we got a closer look - another species we had yet to find in New York

Friday, 18 December 2015

New York Trip Report - Day 4 (Doodletown & Plumb Beach)

Day 4 -  Sunday 24th May 2015

Sunday dawned with bright blue skies and sun, perfect weather for what was my most looked forward to day of our trip – Doodletown. Part of Bear Mountain State Park and situated just over an hour’s drive north of Manhattan, this fantastic area is a well-known and popular destination amongst New York birders.
Black Vultures, New York
Lots of Black Vultures took advantage of the clear skies - the diagnostic white tips to the wings were visible even at a distance
Hiring a car for the day, despite our reservations, turned out to be a brilliant decision, and we were soon well on our way, crossing the George Washington Bridge and heading north through New Jersey. We encountered our first Black Vulture of the trip taking advantage of the thermals, passing several more as we travelled, along with a classic American cop chase encounter unfolding right in front of our eyes. A quick chase resulted in the two motorcyclists crashing head first over their handlebars before being pinned down, cuffed and seeing 5 guns pointed at their heads by the American police.

Getting slightly lost finding the car parking area for the start of our walk at Bear Mountain, we stopped at a layby to reassess. A Northern Mockingbird (a bird we had so far missed in the two parks) immediately flew in to the sunny clearing, beak laden with juicy caterpillars and indicating a nest may be nearby. 
Northern Mockingbird - New York
Northern Mockingbird with caterpillars - presumably to feed young
A small, brightly coloured bird perched on the wires also caught my eye, and a closer look through binoculars revealed a fine male Indigo Bunting, again another bird that we were yet to catch up with on the trip. With a second bird flying through the Mockingbird clearing, we were really able to admire the stunning bright blue plumage that gives the birds their name. Eventually seeing around 4 in total, this was the only location during our trip that we managed to connect with these brightly coloured wonders.

Heading back to the car, it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon – neither of us had any idea how to start the car! Luckily a passing cop helped us out and thankfully we were on our way again, having had a much better experience of American cops first hand than the two unfortunate motorcyclists earlier.
Reaching our parking layby opposite a small body of water, our first Turkey Vulture of the trip soared low down overhead. Distinguished from the Black Vultures by the strip of silver on the underwing, the two are easily told apart even from a distance. A Great Blue Heron (the American equivalent of our Grey Herons) passed overhead, its sheer size apparent, while a male Yellow Warbler flitted through the trees.
Turkey Vulture - Doodletown, New York
Turkey Vulture - The thick white stripe on the underside meant we could tell the two vulture species apart easily
The sun now beating down, we headed up the trail to track down some of the many warbler wonders that breed here. Unlike the warblers passing through Central and Prospect Park that merely pass through on their migration, the warblers at Bear Mountain actually stop to breed in the area, meaning a whole variety of new species would be opened up for us. With such mouth-watering treats as Hooded, Cerulean, Blue-winged and the delightfully named Worm-eating Warbler all easily accessible here, yet only encountered very occasionally in the Manhattan parks, we hoped to catch up with this colourful cast on their breeding grounds.
Black Vulture - Doodletown, New York
Black Vulture
Heading up the trail and admiring a large flock of Black and Turkey Vultures that were right overhead, we had barely gone a few metres before we picked up the high pitched call of a Cerulean Warbler. This beautiful powder-blue warbler was high up on my list of most wanted birds to see, and within a few minutes of peering up in to the tree, I caught sight of a movement amongst the twisting vines as a fine male flitted through the leaves, giving great views as it remained stationary on an exposed branch. Bingo. Much easier to see than we had expected and our first target safely in the bag – Doodletown was proving to be a doddle!
Doodletown, New York
One of the typical warbler-rich trails at Doodletown
Heading down the track and having memorised the songs of the warbler species we expected to see here, we soon stopped when I recognised a familiar call coming from a tree by the side of the trail – Blue-winged Warbler. Within moments, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye as a flash of colour flew towards the telegraph pole at the side of the road next to us. Singing continuously, for such a brightly coloured bird it was almost impossible to relocate – the sound so loud but the bird seemingly obscured deep in a bush somewhere to our right. Finally, I had it, a gorgeous male, nestled within the branches and leaves of the shrub right in front of us. 
Blue-winged Warbler - Doodletown, New York
We stopped to watch this beautiful warbler, now busy preening, and took in the bright sunshine yellow body, blue wings and olive green back. Settled and content, the Blue-winged Warbler continued to sing his heart out, and we left him to attract a mate in peace, another of our target warblers off the list.
Blue-winged Warbler - Doodletown, New York
Blue-winged Warbler - Doodletown, New York
The 'Blue-winged Warbler's Blue wings'
Another familiar call soon caught our attention, and a quick check of our app revealed it to be a Yellow-throated Vireo. This proved to be a nightmare to find, the call emanating from different parts of the trees as this elusive bird seemed to move all over the place. After around 15 frustrating minutes, we eventually pinned it down to a stand of trees on the other side of the trail, the yellow throat and double white wing-bars unmistakeable.

Walking further up the trail, we stopped at a clearing overlooking a stand of woodland. A bird flying out of the trees and over the path caught my eye, and raising my binoculars I was stunned to be greeted by a pristine male Hooded Warbler – Alex’s number 1 target bird of the trip. 
Hooded Warbler - Doodletown, New York
The equivalent of my male Blackburnian Warbler, panic then ensued as I tried to direct him to the bird – luckily in a much shorter time than it took me to find the first Blackburnian at Central Park! With the classic “baby baby, I love you” song that was ingrained in our memory, we watched as this beautiful warbler sang from the branches opposite, the jet black hood standing out from the bright yellow body (reminding me of a bumble bee) and ecstatic that we had tracked down our main target at the site.
Hooded Warbler - Doodletown, New York
Our much sought after Hooded Warbler!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

New York Trip Report - Day 3 (Prospect Park)

Day 3 -  Saturday 23rd May 2015

We arose bright and early the next morning ready for our first day at a new location – Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Taking the tube and arriving at around half 8, it was obvious that despite not being there at the crack of dawn, the day would provide a wealth of birds – there had evidently been a huge fall in the night. Taking just a few steps down the path, I immediately heard a call that was now engraved in my memory – the high pitched chiming trill of a Blackburnian Warbler high at the tops of the trees. With decent views the day before but no photos, I was keen to try and catch up with what would be our second individual of the trip, and we headed in the direction the call was coming from to try and track down this fantastic warbler.
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
My favourite bird of the entire trip - Blackburnian Warbler!
The perfect overnight conditions had obviously brought down a large number of birds in the park, and the trees were alive with brilliantly coloured warblers in every direction we looked. Craning our necks to see right to the tips of the branches, the bright yellow of a male Canada Warbler caught our eye in the leaves above while several Magnolia Warblers flitted from branch to branch. Red-eyed Vireos called from the very tops of the trees, while American Redstarts and Northern Parulas flashed their lively colours in abundance.
American Redstart - Prospect Park, New York
American Redstart
And then we had it. A beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler foraging at the tips of one of the branches high above our head, the vibrant tropical orange throat unmistakeable as it peered through the leaves. Grabbing my camera, I was finally able to get some record shots of what was for me, the star species of the trip.
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
The bright orange throat was clear even at a height
With the Blackburnian Warbler disappearing high in to the very tops of the trees, we continued exploring the rest of Mid-Wood to see what other goodies we could find. A quick, mouse-like movement up the trunk of a tree at the side of the path turned out to be our first House Wren of the trip, providing brief views as it crept up the bark. Much more elongated than our Wrens back in the UK, the difference was clear to see, and we watched as it scurried high up the tree and disappeared out of sight around the back of the trunk.

Heading further in to the trees, an extremely showy Ovenbird provided great views as it perched on an open branch right in front of us, while numerous American Robins and Swainson’s Thrushes turned over the leaves almost everywhere we looked in the search for insect prey. 
Ovenbird - Prospect Park, New York
Ovenbird - showed so well but the light was terrible!
Swainson's Thrush - New York
Swainson's Thrush
A great spot by Alex of a pale coloured warbler above the undergrowth resulted in a female Bay-breasted Warbler, our first new warbler species of the day and a bird which we hadn’t managed to locate in Central Park. Quite a large bulky warbler, the females are readily identifiable by an overall peachy wash to the belly and two thick distinctive white wing-bars that can be seen even at a distance. A great bird to catch up with and one of our main targets for the day crossed off our list.

Following the twisting trails around Mid-Wood, the birds kept coming thick and fast. A female Black and White Warbler gave the best views yet as it foraged right in front of us on the wooden sides of the path, this time completely unobscured from any branches and providing the perfect opportunity to get some photos.
Black and White Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
The Black and Warblers moved more like a Nuthatch!
Black and White Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Black and White Warbler - Prospect Park, New York

Thursday, 3 December 2015

New York Trip Report - Day 2 (Central Park)

Day 2 -  Friday 22nd May 2015

With our jet lagged internal clocks still operating 5 hours ahead in UK time, we were able to get out bright and early the next morning ready for a dawn start on what was our second day in the Big Apple. With news that my most sought after species (Blackburnian Warbler) had just been spotted at a part of Central Park called Cherry Hill, we rushed out to try and catch up with what could potentially be a difficult warbler to add to our trip list.

It was immediately obvious that there had been a small fall of migrants during the night – we had barely gone a few metres in to the park when the chattering of birds in the entrance trees at Artisans Gate distracted us. Two Red-eyed Vireos were moving stealthily through the leaves at height, quite elusive but occasionally giving good enough views for us to clearly see that bright red eye that gives them their name. Luckily, this was one of the commonest Vireo species we saw in New York, and we had great views on almost every day of our trip. Interestingly, they seemed to be instantly attracted to Alex’s pishing noise – something to bear in mind the next time one is reported in the UK!
Red-eyed Vireo - Central Park, New York
The red eye that gives the Vireo its name was clearly noticable even at a distance!
Moving on to Cherry Hill, we immediately spotted the trees the Blackburnian had been reported in, and it was no easy feat trying to spot a small warbler at the top of these towering giants. A Canada Warbler flitted briefly through the leaves, while the bright yellow of several Magnolia Warblers caught our eye in the early morning light. Deciding that a row of smaller trees positioned in the sun may hold more birds, we headed over to keep watch for any warblers passing through. Several female American Redstarts hovered in search of prey, and whilst not in the same league visually as the fiery black and red males, it was still great to watch them as they foraged, their long and rounded yellow-patched tail distinctive.

A pair of Swainson’s Thrushes hopped along amongst the pine needles below (their spectacles again confirming that this was indeed the species we had seen the day before) while an extremely showy Gray Catbird foraged near enough under our feet. A flash of yellow and black caught our eye, and our first male Common Yellowthroat of the trip popped in to view.
Swainson's Thrush - Central Park, New York
The spectacle markings were always obvious on the Swainson's Thrushes we saw
Swainson's Thrush - Central Park, New York
Common Yellowthroat - Central Park, New York
Male Common Yellowthroats were not as numerous as the females
With no sign of any Blackburnians, my attention turned to a small, drab brown looking warbler skulking in the shrubs lower down. With a diagnostic white triangle on the wings, this could only be one thing – a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. While no comparison to the beautiful shimmering blues of the male, it was still a great addition to our list, and one of only a handful we saw all trip.

With the Blackburnian Warbler seeming to have moved on, we decided to make our way to the Ramble, one of the best spots in Central Park and an area guaranteed to get us some new species. A showy Red-winged Blackbird perched obligingly in a nearby bush as we passed the lake, while the high pitched calls of several Cedar Waxwings in the tops of a tree soon gave their presence away.
The Lake - Central Park, New York
The view of Manhattan from across the lake
Exploring a small garden near Robert Wagner Cove, we encountered our first Red-bellied Woodpecker (bizarrely named as the belly is completely lacking any red colouring) showing incredibly well on a fallen trunk at the side of the path. With a gorgeous black and white chequerboard back, this was definitely one of the most attractive woodpeckers we saw in America, and we often spotted them creeping up the sides of the trunks.
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park, New York
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park, New York
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park, New York
Continuing on around the lake and along the road, amongst all the early morning joggers Alex noticed a large brown flycatcher perched in the top of one of the trees in Strawberry Fields. Having received a Twitter alert of an Olive-sided Flycatcher in the area, this could only be one thing. Getting good views through our binoculars, despite the distance across the road we could clearly see the well-marked olive brown patches on the sides, a great addition to our list and an uncommon bird in Central Park in some years.
Olive-sided Flycatcher - Central Park, New York
One of the easier flycatchers to ID!
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