Monday, 21 November 2011

High Resolution Images from October 2011

High Resolution Images from October 2011
The images in the main blog have been reduced in size to 600 pixels or less across to facilitate quick loading. It goes against all my sensibilities to reduce the resolution, so each month I shall select a few shots that warrant being seen in in hi-res.
These posts may take slightly longer to load, so please be patient.

The links will take you to the original post.

This splendid male Wood Duck was reflected in a small open patch of water in Beaver Lake, Stanley Park, Vancouver.

This Yellow-billed Pintail was seen at the end of the day in the Botanical Gardens in Sao Paulo.

This Common Snipe was one of the few that didn't flush on sight from the shallow ponds at Long Valley, Hong Kong

Other galleries can be found at the dedicated High Resolution page.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, Nov 2011

If this were to be a perfect day, it would have to be sometime next week. Next week, my exams would be over and with any luck this hangover will be gone too! I had left the big camera at home as I knew that if I brought it to Lagos, it would draw the attention of the Security Manager and I would be distracted from my revision.

As it happens, the revision was going fairly well until I noticed ripples coming from a puddle on the flat roof outside my window. Luckily I had packed the small camera and some binoculars, ‘just in case’. The bird hopped up onto the wall and showed itself to be a Shikra. This was just the distraction that I needed and I dropped my books and took myself out to the gardens for a quick once round before dusk.

In the area beyond the razor-wired wall a Double-spurred Francolin stood atop a cinder block wall. Peter told me of the francolins’ habit of burying their eggs, but leaving one above ground to remind them where the nest is. I can’t find any supporting evidence for this, but if anyone has any special knowledge of this bird, it would be interesting to know.

Peter was the security guard who had been tasked to keep an eye on the gardens and he joined me for a lap around the path that serves as a jogging track to some of the more active guests. He did not object to the camera, so I assumed that its smaller size was acceptable.

Birds stayed high and silhouetted, out of range of the Nikon, but some dragonflies stayed put just long enough to have their pictures taken. The one above is a Lucia Widow and below is a potential Red Basker, Urothemis assignata.

Bird Species; 10
Cattle Egret 2, Black Kite 4, Shikra 1, Double-spurred Francolin 1, Red-eyed Dove 2, Laughing Dove 3, Rose-ringed Parakeet 2, Western Grey Plantain-eater 4, Common Bulbul 4, Splendid Glossy Starling 1.
Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria, LOS,

Other Lagos posts can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from Nigeria, West Africa and the continent

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Different day, different boys.

If you participate in a hobby or pastime, it is only natural that you should aspire to reach a level of competence that will enable you to mix and confer with other adherents to your chosen pursuit. Until, that is, you meet ‘Doug’. In every hobby where single, middle-aged men gather together in the spirit of gentle competition to follow a mutual interest, there is a ‘Doug’; someone who raises the bar and makes the most basic concept of competence seem a distant prospect. Doug is an “absurdly good birder” who appears to eat, breathe and talk…and talk and talk birds and birding.

It was a real experience to join him and Corey from 10000 Birds, for a day’s birding along the barrier islands of Long Island. I had sent Corey a wish-list of birds that would enhance my life list and he had enlisted the help of Doug to plan a military-style campaign to wring every potential bird from the day and so it was that I found myself trailing in their wake as we launched an assault on the birds of Sussex, Nassau and Queens Counties, New York. The day passed in a blur. We were in and out of the car, striding along beaches and boardwalks, criss-crossing car parks and county lines, visiting and revisiting sites with a commendable sense of urgency. Do we need the scope? What are we looking for here? Shall I bring the camera? Have I had my breakfast? All this just to find me a few birds; I felt very honoured until I found that this was the normal pace of a walk out with Corey whose outings have been likened to “route-marches”.  

I cannot give directions to any of the sites, as I had no input into where we went or how we got there, but I have identified a few on Google Earth and given the coordinates with each one. Cut and paste the co-ordinates and it's almost like being there yourself.

There was much discussion about where to start, but the decision was made to go to the nearer Jones Beach State Park and look out from the Coast Guard Station there (Google Earth ref; 40 35 23N 73 33 10W). A small sand bar, conveniently located close to a shady pagoda and viewing platform, held a few waders, such as American Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Black-bellied Plover with a few Herring Gulls  and an American (Buff-bellied) Pipit flying over. On the water were plenty of Brant Geese, a couple of Horned Grebes and a Common Loon.

Retracing our steps back past the car and close to the Coast Guard’s gate was a patch of scrub that I heard referred to as the West End. Apparently good for migrants and sparrows, it was well stocked with Song and Savannah Sparrows today with approachable Golden-crowned Kinglets feeding in the verge and grass by the pavement.

Further along at the western-most end of Jones Beach Island, Doug pulled a few Black Scoter females from a flock of Surf Scoters. Looking back, I am ashamed to have questioned him, but he set up the scope and sure enough, the pale cheeks of the female Black Scoters and the more delicate bill were apparent. I suspect that he had finessed them with an experienced eye for size and habit and nevermore did I call his identifications.

To the east is an open air stadium sponsored by Nikon, accessed by an underpass beneath the freeway. A flock of Boat-tailed Grackles were seen here with a female sitting nicely and this may also have been the spot where we saw the Merlin chasing grackles. Nearby but, I think, on the ocean side of the barrier island, a Common Tern was seen at the water’s edge.

Next, on to Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island, characterised by the parkway and some huge parking lots. Doug became very excited by a ringed American Kestrel perched on a sign here.

There is a hawk watching platform (Google Earth Ref; 40 37 49.48N 73 13 29.51W), used to monitor migrating birds of prey and the low scrub and ocean give access to a whole lot of sky to watch, interrupted only by the Fire Island Lighthouse. We approached it along a very birdy boardwalk with more sparrows, House Finch and a Cooper’s Hawk seen from it. The hawk watchers had had very little success, but a Sharp-shinned Hawk passed low as we left.

Perhaps it was about now that we returned to the Coast Guard station to check the sand bar again. The tide had been coming in all morning and was nearing its highest point now, bringing lots of wading birds in with it. The bar was now covered with birds.

Dunlin, Red Knot, American Oystercatchers and Black-bellied Plovers were especially abundant with a single Marbled Godwit and a few Semi-palmated Sandpipers. Doug called a Western Sandpiper which accommodatingly went to roost beside the Semi-palmated and I am sure that the differences are obvious to the trained eye. Actually, I had to ask and found that the slightly bigger Western Sandpiper (on the left) roosts with a slightly more upright posture than the Semi-palmated Sandpiper.

These two images were digiscoped, a discipline that I have yet to master, but thanks to Corey for giving me a go. I tried and failed to get a shot of Doug’s Yellow-billed Cuckoo that came in off the water into the bush at the top of the sand bar.
We may have achieved a sub and a drink on the go before reaching a rather fetching salt marsh, the Marine Study Nature Area (Google Earth ref; 40 37 11N 73 37 16W), with a boardwalk running through it. We were hoping for some Ammodramus sparrows here, but had to content ourselves with some Brant Geese and a Great Egret. The theory as I understood it is that the sparrows would be driven to the dry ground in the margins as the tide flooded the salt marsh, but we may have missed the top of the tide and the sparrows could have retreated back into the long grasses.

And so onto Fort Tilden (Google Earth ref; 40 33 55N 73 53 05W) with an eye for a Vesper Sparrow. One had been seen recently in the community gardens, or allotments as they would be known in the UK, but it appeared to have moved on. Corey published a couple of pictures of the said chunky sparrow on 10000 Birds and I could recognise the stump and the car on which it had posed for him, but of the bird itself, there was not a feather to be seen.  An overgrown patch close by was popular with the Song and Savannah Sparrows again with a Northern Cardinal putting in a brief appearance too. Corey had found some White-footed Mice under some corrugated moulding and in so doing added Peromyscus leucopus to my mammals list.

In what proved to be my favourite part of the day we stopped at the southwest corner of Fort Tilden, looking out to sea. Close in were a few more Black Scoter and I was able to get a good look at the yellow-knobbed bill of the male. There were three species of scoter flying by further out and Doug happily called my attention to a slightly smaller bird here or a more defined line and pattern of flight there to indicate the differences between them. One day, one day.

The light was fading now and Corey made a last dash for Jamaica Bay’s West Pond where a good head of Ruddy Duck was seen. Other species mixed amongst them included a Shoveler, an American Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Pintail, some Bufflehead and some Red-breasted Mergansers. Laughing Gulls were seen in higher numbers here than at any time during the day and a huge flock of Boat-tailed Grackles came to roost in the reeds.
I am indebted to Corey for inviting me along, organising the day and driving us around and to Doug for his boundless expertise. Thanks for a great day out guys. The list below reflects only my misty memory of the numbers of birds seen and is certainly wildly inaccurate. Doug took copious notes during the day which I had hoped to cheat from, but forgot to ask at the end of a long day. To separate the sites with a list for each would be impossible at this stage with no notes, so the whole day has been melted into one big list.
Species seen; 73
Red-throated Diver 1, Great Northern Diver 4, Horned Grebe 2, Northern Gannet 80, Double-crested Cormorant 80, Great Egret 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 1, Mute Swan 4, Canada Goose 50, Brent Goose 2000, American Wigeon 1, Gadwall 4, Green-winged Teal 2, Mallard 25, American Black Duck 60, Northern Pintail 3, Northern Shoveler 1, Greater Scaup 600, Common Eider 1, Black Scoter 8, Surf Scoter 150, White-winged Scoter 6,Bufflehead 10, Red-breasted Merganser 30, Ruddy Duck 3400, Sharp-shinned Hawk 1, Cooper’s Hawk 2, American Kestrel 1, Merlin 2, Peregrine Falcon 1, American Coot 20, American Oystercatcher 370, Grey Plover 60, Marbled Godwit 1, Willet 2, Red Knot 330, Sanderling 50, Semi-palmated Sandpiper 2, Western Sandpiper 1, Dunlin 500, Ring-billed Gull 15, Great Black-backed Gull 15, Herring Gull 60, Laughing Gull 35, Common Tern 1, Mourning Dove 2, Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1, Downy Woodpecker 2, Northern Flicker 1, Eastern Phoebe 3, Tree Swallow 150, Buff-bellied Pipit 1, Northern Mockingbird 6, Eastern Bluebird 1, American Robin 12, Hermit Thrush2, Golden-crowned Kinglet 15, American Crow 20, Common Starling 150, House Sparrow 8, House Finch 2, Yellow-rumped Warbler 12, Palm Warbler 2, Chipping Sparrow 4, Savannah Sparrow 8, Song Sparrow 25, White-throated Sparrow 15, Dark-eyed Junco 26, Snow Bunting 1, Northern Cardinal 1, Red-winged Blackbird 15, Boat-tailed Grackle 450, Common Grackle 15.

Actually, I have just found how to access Doug’s notes from e-bird but if I compare what I recall with what he recorded I begin to wonder if we were looking in the same direction, so I have selected a few pertinent counts and relied on my own inadequate memory for the rest.

To find more posts from New York, New York; follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more from the continent of North America

JFK, New York, Jones Beach State Park, Black Scoter

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Boys' day out Pt. 2

The sun rose by 07.30 to find us (us being Mike, Dave and me) well on our way along Route 66 towards Shenandoah National Park. The snow and sleet front had passed over and the scenery along the route was stunning in the early morning light. We had thought it prudent to look at the website to check that the park would be open. It had been closed during the storm of the previous day and we were hoping for a prediction on its status for today. It was such a beautiful autumn morning that we could not resist driving down, despite there being no updated info on the website.

As we drew closer to Front Royal, the northern portal town for Shenandoah National Park, the snow became thicker and lay inches deep on parked cars. The glorious sunshine and the autumn colours in the trees were spectacularly enhanced by the blanket of snow, but it gave me twinges which were borne out when we came upon the barrier blocking the entrance to the park.
It was closed of course. A couple of miles upstream along the southern fork of the Shenandoah River is a high lookout which gives out across the river to another Appalachian ridge in the distance to the west. I believe this to be the George Washington National Forest. A chap looked incredulously from the frosted window of his canoe-hire centre when we pulled into his car park. When he realised that we were not planning to go tubing on the river he turned back to his heater as we took in the fabulous scenery and found our first few birds of the day.

A Pileated Woodpecker flew across the river and a Downy Woodpecker pulled into a tree close by.  The bright red of the Northern Cardinals in the car park impressed my companions who are not birders (yet). But this was not going to fill our day, so once again we repaired to a diner (the excellent Knotty Pine in Front Royal) to consider our options.
Asking at the local gas station threw up the name Raymond J “Andy” Guest Shenandoah River State Park. It was only a few miles along the road, south from Front Royal (at Google Earth ref; 35 50 35N 78 18 04W) and it seemed like a reasonable alternative. It was even said to occasionally harbour bears. Indeed there was a bear, “Stella”, stuffed and mounted in the visitor centre just beyond the entrance control post, but no live ones were found here. The State Park is many times smaller than the National Park and can easily be covered in a day.

A platform jutting from the hillside afforded a magnificent view across the snow-frosted valley. We chose to follow a couple of paths, namely the Cottonwood Trail which led us alongside the Shenandoah River and the Wildcat Ledge.
The snow on the boardwalk of the Cottonwood Trail was frozen and crunched loudly under our boots, so we turned off onto the Wildcat Ledge trail. Tufted Titmice had formed small foraging flocks with Carolina Chickadees and we watched four Bald Eagles in the meadow to the north from the lookout point at the end of the trail. Wildcat Ledge is a dead-ending trail, so we retraced our steps and gave the crunchy boardwalk another go. We could see the eagles in the air now, circling to gain some height.

There was a nice selection of birds found as the boardwalk looped around and back on itself. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers and Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen on a few occasions with a Red-tailed Hawk sitting atop a leafless tree in the meadow. Singletons included White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-breasted Sapsucker and Carolina Wren.
Early in the afternoon, the sun had warmed the air sufficiently for us to remove jackets and hats. Perhaps Skyline Drive had been re-opened by now. Sadly it hadn’t. Perhaps it is still early in the season for snow. The trees still had plenty of leaves and the snow would have been laying heavy on them. Though it looked as if a man with a snowplough attached to the front of his truck could have it cleared in mere moments, we had not considered that the weight of the snow could have brought down a few trees as well.

So if you find yourself in Front Royal and the Shenandoah National Park is closed, do consider the Shenandoah River State Park. It may not have the scale and the bears, but it was a very pleasant place to enjoy some stunning scenery. My thanks go to Mike and Dave for being so understanding and proactive and for being such good company on a long day out.

We arrived back at the hotel to find the only bird of the day that actually sat for a photograph. A Northern Mockingbird perched in a tree adjacent to the entrance to the hotel.
Birds seen; 32
Great Blue Heron1, Turky Vulture 8, Black Vulture 1, Bald Eagle 4, Mourning Dove 6, Red-bellied Woodpecker 2, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1, Downy Woodpecker 3, Northern Flicker 4, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Cedar Waxwing 60, Carolins Wren 3, Northern Wren 1, Northern Mockingbird 1, American Robin 15, Hermit Thrush 2, Golden-crowned Kinglet 4, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1, Carolina Chickadee 12, Tufted Titmouse 6, White-breasted Nuthatch 2, Blue Jay 15, American Crow 35, Common Starling 60, American Goldfinch 6, Yellow-rumped Warbler 8, Chipping Sparrow 3, Song Sparrow 4, White-throated Sparrow 15, Dark-eyed Junco 12, Northern Cardinal 8, Common Grackle 8.

The Boys' day out Part 1 can be found here.

Other posts from the area can be found by following the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for other North American posts

Shenandoah National Park, Shenandoah River State Park, IAD, Tyson's Corner, Washington.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Boys' day out, Pt. 1

The weather put the kybosh on a boys’ day out in Washington this week. Plans to visit the Shenandoah National Park had to be deferred for 24 hours as a storm warning closed the Skyline Drive route through the park.

Instead we took in a few of the local sites close to Tyson’s Corner which all proved to be a damp trudge along puddled footpaths, with little of note to see from beneath the rim of an umbrella.

We passed briefly through a site close to Tyson’s Corner which is usually good for White-tailed Deer and has been previously described at Redgannet, but most of the site has now been dug up ready for more shops. We went on to Great Falls Park (which can be seen in a far better light either here, here or here) before taking shelter in a likely-looking diner (diners played a significant role in our excursions this week) to make fresh plans.

Between Mike, Dave and me, there was nearly eighty years experience of being flexible, resourceful and inventive, so within 6 eggs, lots of coffee and some pancakes (there was also a lot of experience in unnecessarily large breakfasts) we had a new plan.

We visited Washington DC as the snow came in and took in the Pentagon Memorial and individual parts of the complex of museums that make up the Smithsonian. I only mention this because of a couple of unlikely lifer birds, Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet, which I found in the basement of the Natural History Museum.

Apart from that, the few birds below were seen through the morning. 
Double-crested Cormorant 1, Great Blue Heron 3, Canada Goose 6, Mallard 6, Banded Kingfisher 1, Kildeer 4, American Crow 25, Carolina Chickadee 12, Golden-crowned Kinglet 3, Carolina Wren 2, House Wren 1, Hermit Thrush 1, Eastern Bluebird 4, BlueJay 4, Yellow-rumped Warbler 12, Song Sparrow 6.

Other posts from the area can be found by following the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for other North American posts
Tyson's Corner, Washington DC, IAD.