Thursday 27 December 2012

Central Park, New York, Dec 2012

T’was the day before Christmas and I had been told,
That Owls can be seen as the weather grows cold.
“Dash away,” I exclaimed, as I sprang from my bed,
And beer from the night before danced in my head.

The weather was mild and the day had turned fair,
I hurried along, so I soon would be there.
And there, in the park, at the top of a tree,
I looked up and a Barred Owl looked back down at me.

This is of course, the now famous Barred Owl of Central Park. I had cycled as far as the Loeb Boathouse to see if the owls (for there are thought to be at least two), were still being reported. The last entry had been a few days before and “Pishing” Bob Di Canio had indeed noted two birds.  
I moved swiftly through the Ramble, only stopping momentarily at the bird feeding station by Azalea Pond. From there I passed through the Shakespeare Garden and towards the Pinetum. There I saw a young lady looking intently into a tree. I approached slowly and she pointed out a “big brown lump” high, to the right, in a pine tree.

It wasn’t a great view, but it was the only one available as the bird had positioned itself so as to be invisible from any other angle. From this angle it was only possible to see its lower belly and undertail. Luckily it was not asleep and began preening to allow me to see a little more of it.

Two Blue Jays passed closely by and screeched at it half-heartedly and moved on quickly. This didn’t disturb the owl in the least which carried on preening and treated me to a full wing and leg stretch.

These pictures are the best of a bad bunch. I had tried to over-expose to gain a bit of detail on the bird. Unfortunately, the owl was high and silhouetted and by looking up into the tree, my eyes adjusted to the brightness of the sky, so when I looked back to the replayed picture on my screen, it still looked under exposed, so I over-adjusted. Eyes are not very accurate light meters and I have been caught out like this on a couple of occasions before.

Tufted Titmice were abundant in the park today and very bold. This one perched on my bicycle before dropping down onto my tripod. Does anyone, by chance, have a locking lever flap for a Velbon Tripod? Actually, I need four of them. The legs are currently suppoted by tightly wound rubber bands. 
Before I moved on I checked under the tree to see if the owl had dropped any pellets. There were a couple that looked rather old and dry, possibly from a smaller owl, but directly beneath the bird was a large, still moist pellet.

Between the Pinetum and the Reservoir a Red-tailed Hawk perched high in a bare tree. At the Reservoir Mallards lined the edges while estimated hundreds of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls roosted out on the hard stand.

Around the rest of the park, White-throated Sparrows were even more common than the Tufted Titmice.

Birds seen; 25

Canada Goose 120, Mallard 60, Red-tailed Hawk 1, American Coot 1, Ring-billed Gull 200, Herring Gull 200, Great Black-backed Gull 18, Mourning Dove 1, Barred Owl 1, Red-bellied Woodpecker 2, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1, Downy Woodpecker 3, American Crow 2, Black-capped Chickadee 12, Tufted Titmouse 80, White-breasted Nuthatch 6, American Rovin 25, European Starling 25, White-throated Sparrow 100, Dark-eyed Junco 2, Northern Cardinal 2, Common Grackle 150, House Finch 20, American Goldfinch 20, House Sparrow 15.
For more posts from Central Park, follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canadapage for more posts from New York, including Jamaica Bay.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Pleasure Bay, Boston, Dec 2012

It was a bit of a disappointment to wake up this morning and find that the world had not ended. After toasting the approach of the End of Days with a mixture of red wine and margaritas, I was hoping not to have to face the consequences.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, "Conquest", "War", "Famine" and "Death" did not ride last night, but “Hangover”, the fifth member of the band who left before they became famous, was thundering through my head. Rain and wind drove me back into the hotel on my first two attempts and it looked as if the rest of the day would be washed out. Then a sixth horseman rode out. This manifestation of ruin terrorised those who had put off their festive preparations just in case the doom-sayers had been right. "Panic-purchase" was abroad. Eventually, the afternoon brightened. Being unable to cope with the shopping madness, I managed to get out to Boston’s City Point with just an hour of daylight left.

A lagoon, known as Pleasure Bay, has been enclosed by a sea wall with two openings to allow the tide to flow in and out. Ring-billed Gulls were seen at the water’s edge on a strip of sandy beach on the western side at Google Earth ref; 42°20'8.54" N71° 1'23.73"W.

I took an anti-clockwise walk along the sea wall. The water in the lagoon was smooth and would have made good viewing with the sun over my shoulder in the late afternoon, but the flat water also attracted wind surfers and kite surfers who kept the birds away. A few Herring Gulls flew by, but most of the interest was found outside the sea wall.

Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads and Horned Grebes dived in the rougher water of the bay. Greater numbers were seen as I progressed along and crossed the first of the inlets. The sun had dipped low in the sky now and the wind was beginning to bite, though the temperature was still very mild. Small flocks of birds were flying past, mostly heading in a southerly direction.

I reached the fortifications at the north-west corner and moved down onto a small jetty looking across the water to Logan International Airport. A Red-throated Loon was close to the shore here, but my main interest was in looking for a Snowy Owl that is occasionally seen on the airfield during the winter. I quickly realised that it would take better light and a scope to confidently identify a Snowy Owl from this range. It is over 800 meters to the closest point on the airport and 1200 to the jetty that supports the landing lights. A white object at the far end of the lights jetty looked promising, but could just as easily have been a plastic bag. It still beat lying in bed feeling sorry for my poor aching head and wishing that the world would get on with it and end.

A Herring Gull was trying to crack a mollusc, but was having very little success. It had mastered the concept and would carry the shell aloft and drop it onto the rocks below. The rocks however, were well spaced apart and mostly the shell fell, undamaged onto the sand.

Birds seen; 13

Brant 8, American Black Duck 4, Common Eider 35, Bufflehead 8, Common Golden-eye 2, Red-breasted Merganser 35, Red-throated Loon 1, Horned Grebe 2, Ring-billed Gull 15, American Herring Gull 25, Great Black-backed Gull 15, European Starling 6, House Sparrow 4.

Bus number 9, to City Point runs every 10 – 15 minutes from the Copley area of Boston to the beach at Pleasure Bay.

For more posts from Boston Follow the links below;

Saturday 15 December 2012

Matheson Hammock, Miami, December 2012

The day was slow to start this morning and I had to wait for the first signs of light before setting out towards Matheson Hammock. On the opposite side of the road from the entrance to the picnic area is a small area of grassland and woodland that I have taken to exploring before moving on to Matheson Hammock (Google Earth ref;  25°40'56.20"N 80°16'44.54"W). There were not many birds this morning, but a Red-bellied Woodpecker pounced on a small lizard which was out in the early sunshine.

This came as a surprise and I had to look up the woodpecker’s diet to find that not many internet sources include reptiles. Those that do, go on to add eggs, nestlings, frogs and even fish (to be fair, most of the sources are concerned with bird feeders and it may not be appropriate to hang lizards out to attract birds into your garden). I see far more little lizards in Miami than in any other place where I also see Red-bellied Woodpeckers and their abundance here may explain their presence on the menu. I wonder how far north the woodpeckers’ liking for reptiles extends.
A tuneful series of whistles and melodious warbles heralded the arrival of a flock of Hill Mynas, but a pair of overflying Blue-and-yellow Macaws broke the magic of the moment with their raucous calls. A couple of Orange-winged Parrots screeched from the top of a blasted palm tree and a flock of Monk Parakeets landed in the palms up ahead. In the wooded areas, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers flitted quietly through the foliage.

The day’s only red-letter sighting came as soon as I crossed the road. Carlos Sanchez, noted birder and 10,000 Birds contributor was giving Matheson Hammock picnic area a thorough work over.  I am not normally drawn to people, but I find it difficult to resist anyone with a pair of binoculars looking intently into a tree. Not immediately realising who he was, I said hello and marvelled as he picked warblers and vireos from what, to me, appeared to be empty trees. Palm Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Blue-headed Vireo, were all seen in an area that I might have otherwise passed by.

Carlos went out of his way for me to find a feeding flock that he had seen earlier that included Yellow-throated Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler and Blue-winged Warbler before continuing through the picnic area in his search for a Great Crested Flycatcher. The flycatcher was not seen, but we did find an oddly rufous Racoon.
We moved on to the shoreline and noted some Pied-billed Grebes, and Brown Pelican out on the water and an Osprey using a Stars ‘n Stripes as a perch in the shallow bay. Close in was a Red-breasted Merganser.

At the water’s edge a small flock of Ruddy Turnstones picked through the washed up weeds while a Yellow-crowned Night Heron stalked for crabs.

On the beach in the lagoon a fair number of Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns roosted, but I was momentarily distracted as a woodpecker flew in and landed on a palm right in front of me. Carlos called a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but I corrected him by calling a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Carlos insisted that it was a sapsucker. I was definitely looking at a red-belly, but Carlos’s prowess as a birder puts me to shame and I was starting to have a crisis of confidence. 
Then a timid face appeared around the edge of the palm’s trunk and we both spotted each others’ birds, realised what had happened and were able to carry on, dignity intact.
On the southern side of the lagoon, a sandbar had been exposed by a low tide and was proving popular with gulls as well as Semi-palmated Plovers and Least Sandpipers.
It was a great pleasure and an education to meet Carlos, but I had to leave him there and head back, just stopping a couple of times to grab the Royal Terns that I missed earlier and some Brown Pelicans resting on the bow of the yachts in the marina.

Birds seen; 46
Red-breasted Merganser 1, Pied-billed Grebe 5, Double-crested Cormorant 8, Anhingha 1, Brown Pelican 8, Great Egret 3, Little Blue Heron 2, Yellow-crowned Night HJeron 2, White I bis 10, Turkey Vulture 15, Osprey 1, American Kestrel 2, Semi-palmated Plover 6, Spotted Sandpiper 1, Ruddy Turnstone 12, Least Sandpiper 10, Laughing Gull 30, Ring-billed Gull 4, Royal Tern 8, Eurasian Collared Dove 1, Mourning Dove 1, Blue-and-yellow Macaw 2, Orange-winged Parrot 2, Monk Parakeet 30, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2, Red-bellied Woodpecker 10, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1, Eastern Phoebe 1, White-eyed Vireo 2, Yellow-throated Vireo 2, Blue-headed Vireo 4, Fish Crow 4, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 10, Northern Mockingbird 3, Hill Myna 40European Starling 6, Blue-winged Warbler 1, Black-and-white Warbler 3, Common Yellowthroat 2, Northern Parula 4, Palm Warbler 7, Yellow-rumped Warbler 4, Yellow-throated Warbler 2, Prairie Warbler 4, Boat-tailed Grackle 6.
Spotted Sandpiper
The entrance to Matheson Hammock can be found off Old Cutler road, just south of Miami at Google Earth ref; 25°40'56.76"N 80°16'22.08"W.  There are no access restrictions for pedestrians, but a barrier prevents vehicles from entering until sunrise. There is a small parking area immediately on the left. To the right is the picnic area which boasts small lakes, lawns, palms, tangles and moss-draped trees.  Look through this area for warblers and woodpeckers. A small road extends as far as the Fairchild Tropical Gardens.
The road from the entrance heads down through the mangroves (there is a charge for vehicles) and comes out into a large car park overlooking a shallow bay. The shoreline is popular with small waders which pick through the washed up weed. A variety of herons may also be seen here. Out on the bay Brown Pelicans and Osprey are likely to be seen.
Laughing Gulls are common, but other gulls and terns are often seen roosting around the lagoon (Google Earth ref; 25°40'41.58"N 25°40'41.58"N). Cormorant, waders, herons and gulls, may be seen on the open side of the walkway.
There are public toilets and a restaurant by the larger car park.
Northern Parula
 For other posts from Matheson Hammock, follow he links below;
Visit the dedicated USA and CanadaPage for more posts from Miami including; Bill Baggs’ State Park and Virginia Key.
Ruddy Turnstone

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Promenading at Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, December 2012

Pick up is at lunch-time today which gives me a few hours in the morning to visit Costanera Sur and improve on my total for the trip. Having already posted separately for the reserve and the promenade, I am now content to join them together on a single page. If you want more specific post on either, follow the links above or see the links at the end of the page. At 05.30 a guard came sluggishly out from his sentry box at the north-east end of the promenade to confirm that the gates there would remain closed until 08.00 on this Sunday morning. Jumping the fence had been a feasible and popular option on my last trip to Buenos Aires, but this gate appears to have become an official entrance now and warrants its own guard.

So I pounded the promenade for a couple of hours and found the same number of birds with a few missing and a few added. Picazuro Pigeons, Eared Doves and Shiny Blackbirds were still abundant on the pavements and flying over. Masked Yellowthroats and Masked Gnatcatchers were again common in the reeds and bushes beyond the wall.

A big Saturday night had spilled over into Sunday morning for a few exuberant revellers who were still dancing at the parrillons which had stayed open to accommodate their yeasty needs. A few that were still able to, acknowledged me with a wave while others drag-raced along the road. Much had been made of personal security in Buenos Aires, but the biggest problem I had was having the sun in my eyes all the way along the promenade. At the far end a small patch of water held a couple of Wattled Jacanas which allowed a slightly closer approach this morning. Amongst the Yellow-billed Teals, I was able to pick out a Silver Teal. House Wrens continued to be common and easily photographed.

The light was better on the return journey to the gate. A few joggers and walkers had started to show and most of the revellers had moved on. The gate was open when I returned at 08.00. Immediately inside the gate, I found the nest of a Rufous Hornero and stopped for a while to watch it coming and going.
I followed the path towards the river and found a few more Yellow-billed Teals on the left. Grass growing up by the side of the path attracted Double-collared Seedeaters and a pair of Narrow-billed Woodcreepers passed quickly through, probing the bark of the Tipu Trees as they went.

I had to refer back to the field guide when a pair of unusual birds passed through. It reminded me of an Australian finch, but turned out to be a Blue-and-yellow Tanager. It kept to the deep shade and I was surprised to get a photo. It must look fantastic in better light.

A Glittering-bellied Emerald buzzed around in the shade, feeding from the flowers of a tipu sapling. Getting it in the frame was tricky. I would have loved to get that photograph properly.

I only made it to the corner by the river before I had to return and get ready to fly home. A Red-crested Cardinal was the last bird before turning back.


Birds seen; 42
Silver Teal 1, Yellow-billed Teal 12, Rufescent Tiger-heron 1, Great Egret 7, Snowy Egret 1, Southern Caracara 1, Chimango Caracara 1, Southern Lapwing 2, Wattled Jacana 2, Picazuro Pigeon 80, Eared Dove 45, Nanday Parakeet 6, Monk Parakeet 8, Guira Cuckoo 2, Glittering–bellied Emerald 3, Checkered Woodpecker 2, Rufous Hornero 30, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper 2, Great Kiskadee 9, Gray-breasted Martin 2, Brown-chested Martin 10, White-rumped Swallow 22, House Wren 22, Masked Gnatcatcher 5, Rufous-breasted Thrush 20, Creamy-bellied Thrush 5, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 14, Blue-and-yellow Tanager 2, Golden-billed Saltator 1, European Starling 20, Masked Yellowthroat 4, Black-and-rufous Warbling-finch 9, Double-collared Seedeater 11, Safron Finch 2, Red-crested Cardinal 4, Rufous-collared Sparrow 23, Yellow-winged Blackbird 3, Chestnut-capped Blackbird 2, Bay-winged Cowbird 3, Shiny Cowbird 60, Hooded Siskin 9, House Sparrow 15.

Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve covers more than 800 acres on the bank of the Rio Plata in Buenos Aires. It started as a magnificent promenade where the good people of BA could come to bathe. It lost favour as the water quality in the river deteriorated and swimming fell out of fashion. Landfill and reclamation separated the promenade from the riverbank and subsequent silting gave Nature the chance to colonise and flourish. The reclaimed area became a protected reserve and was awarded Ramsar status in 2005.

The promenade still exists, though it is now over half a mile inland. It makes a fine walk on a warm afternoon, adjacent to the Ave Int. Hernan M. Geralt. For 2kms, the wide pavement looks down on a stretch of marsh and reeds. A few years ago rains would raise the level sufficiently for open water to attract many species of duck, but the water is much reduced now. Only tiny areas at the south-eastern end remain free from reeds but are likely to silt up altogether in the future.

Two gates allow visitors into the reserve. One can be found at each end of the promenade, but the one at the south-eastern end (Google Earth ref; 34°36'59.71"S 58°21'18.78"W) is the main gate by the Visitors’ Centre. The gate at the ferry terminal end of the promenade (at Google Earth ref; 34°35'56.65"S 58°21'44.70"W) is more of a back door and does not always open as advertised.
For more specific details of Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur and the promenade, please refer to the posts below or follow the links;

Monday 10 December 2012

Parque Tres de Febrero, Buenos Aires, December 2012

Parque Tres de Febrero was very busy this afternoon. I believe that there was a national holiday this weekend and the city had descended on the park. Pedalos plied the lake instead of any waterfowl. Such excitement may have caused the birds to flee and the expected coots (Red-gartered Coot, Red-fronted Coot and White-winged Coot) were nowhere to be seen. The paths and lawns were covered with people and stalls, with skaters and drummers adding to the frenetic atmosphere. I tried to circle the lake hoping to find a few birds sheltering from the celebrations on a quiet bank on an island. A pair of Yellow-billed Teal roosted fitfully, but so many people were milling around that they were driven back onto the water.

Gray-breasted Martins, Brown-chested Martins and White-rumped Swallows skimmed across the lake, some fed off the insects rising from the water as evening approached, some delicately sipped from the water’s surface, others clumsily crashed in the attempt. A Red-crested Cardinal was obviously used to the crowds and carried on as usual.
I gave up trying to stay out of peoples’ way on the paths and sat myself down by the water’s edge. On an island in the western lobe of the lake (at Google Earth ref; 34°34'12.21"S 58°25'6.44"W) a Fork-tailed Flycatcher hawked from a dead branch protruding from a large tree and Monk Parakeets found fruits from the trees.

A small flock of Yellow-chevroned Parakeets flew into a nearby Jacaranda tree and fed amongst the purple blossoms. I love Jacarandas. There, I’ve said it.
A European Starling flew in to the same tree. I wonder if the purple sheen around its neck was a reflection from the flowers or just a light refraction from its glossy plumage.

Picazuro Pigeons and Eared Doves had found a quiet lawn inside a fenced area and were able to find a bit of peace.

Birds seen; 22

Yellow-billed Teal 6, Neotropic Cormorant 4, Great Egret 1, Striated Heron 1, Picazuro Pigeon 80, Eared Dove 60, Nanday Parakeet 15, Monk Parakeet 6, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet 4, Rufous Hornero 20, Cattle Tyrant 3, Great Kiskadee 20, Fork-tailed Flycatcher 1, Gray-breasted Martin 8, Brown-chested Martin 10, White-rumped Swallow 20, Rufous-bellied Thrush 10, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 3, European Starling 10, Red-crested Cardinal 2, Bay-winged Cowbird 1, Shiny Cowbird 25.

Parque Tres de Febrero is an open-sided city park with access at any time. There is a railed area which may not be open too early in the morning. The Rose Garden is within the railed area. There are lakes, lawns and lightly wooded areas. It is a well used park, popular with the residents of the city and can get extremely busy, especially at weekends. The lakes hold various coot species as well as grebes and a few duck. There is a large population of domestic geese and domestic Muscovy Duck that may be out-competing many of them. Swallows and martins are common in their season.
Pigeons and doves are abundant and obvious throughout the park with the city gimmes (Rufous-breasted Thrush, Rufous Hornero, Chalk-browed Mockingbird) all easy to find.
3 species of parakeet are common and plenty of other birds can be seen if you can find a quiet spot. A small bridge crosses to an island at Google Earth ref; 34°34'16.51"S 58°24'57.49"W. This is potentially the quietest area of the park with the possibility of the manicurists having missed it out. It is within the railed area.

There is plenty of lightly wooded areas on the periphery of the park including the Planetarium with its adjacent lake at Google Earth ref; 34°34'10.93"S 58°24'42.28"W
Lots of taxis run past the park and it is well served by buses that pass along Ave del Libertador.

For a previous post from Parque Tres de Febrero follow the link below;

Visit the dedicated Central and South American Page for more from Buenos Aires, including Costanera Sur and Ribera Norte.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez, Buenos Aires, December 2012

Just over 2kms south from Reserva Ecológica Ribera Norte is the Reserva Ecológica de Vicente López (Google Earth ref; 34°29'30.62"S 58°28'45.92"W). I found it after directions from a couple who, like me, had been locked out of the Ribera Norte reserve. It does not quite match up to Ribera Norte, but had the huge advantage of being open to the public. Close to the entrance, a Rufous-necked Sparrow was playing obligate parent to its Shiny Cowbird chick.

The adjacent river frontage is given to a public park with trees, lawns and a great view across the Rio Plata. The little gem however is the enclosed lake and surrounding habitat. A path circles the lake, but no indication is given to direction so I chose my preferred anticlockwise.

 The lake quickly comes into view and today it had a 50% covering of surface weed. This was good news for the Wattled Jacanas, but appeared to make it hard work for the Brazilian Teal to plough through.

A boardwalk crosses a corner of the lake. Wardens site themselves on this boardwalk and use a scope to point out things of interest to anyone passing.
Great Kiskadees hawked from the bushes by the waterside and a domestic Muscovy duck preened on the far side. Without the scope, I would probably have missed the Gray-necked Wood-rail that was tucked tightly into the reeds.

The bridge gives onto a tiny plot of grassland. White-rumped Swallows were swooping out across the fence and returning to feed their waiting chicks. The swallows have a distinctive short pale brow which is difficult to see in flight. I was pleased to see it in the chicks. The circuit then passed on into a miniature forest where a Gilded Hummingird rattled his call.
I spotted a black bird amongst the tangles and took ages to catch any field marks on it, eventually identifying it as a Solitary Black Cacique. As if to be awkward, there were two.

I was not able to ascertain whether this Creamy bellied Thrush was planning to dine on animal, vegetable or mineral.

Birds seen; 28

Brazilian Teal 10, Cocoi Heron 1, Great Egret 4, Southern Caracara 1, Chimango Caracara 4, Gray-necked Wood-rail 1, Wattled Jacana 2, Picazuro Pigeon 15, Eared Dove 8, Chequered Woodpecker 1, Rufous Hornero 10, Small-billed Elaenia 1, Cattle Tyrant 2, Great Kiskadee 20, Tropical Kingbird 6, Grey-breasted Martin 1, Brown-chested Martin 20, White-rumped Swallow 15, House Wren 4, Masked Gnatcatcher 1, Rufous-bellied Thrush 20, Creamy-bellied Thrush 1, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 10, Double-collared Seedeater 2, Rufous-collared Sparrow 6, Bay-winged Cowbird 4, Shiny Cowbird 1, Solitary Black Cacique 2.

Visit the dedicated Central and South America page for more posts from Buenos Aires including Ribera Norte and Costanera Sur.