Saturday 24 August 2013

Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, August 2013

A trip to Philadelphia this week was notable for exploring further afield and finding a butterfly haven at Rocklands.

I began on the trail along the Schuykill River Trail, heading upstream to the waterworks. A weir here separates the salty water, pushing upstream on the tide, from the freshwater flowing down (at least I think so).  Wood Ducks kept station against the current, oblivious to the foam from the weir.

The birding was slow until I pulled away from the river and struck inland and uphill on Fountain Green Drive and into Fairmount Park.  

American Goldfinches were seen on the weedy bank to the left and a Song Sparrow popped up in response to a pish.

Mount Pleasant Mansion can be found at Google Earth ref; 39 58 59.98N 75 11 58.96W, about 3 miles northwest of Philadelphia city centre. It is a National Historic Landmark administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, approached via a line of stately trees which held American Redstart and Blue Jays today. Chipping Sparrows fed by the kerb and in the grass at the front of the house. The American Goldfinches appeared again at the top of the slope as if to welcome me to the house.

It is permissible (I assumed) to walk around the building and I went in search of an Eastern Wood-pewee that I could hear calling.
An Eastern Phoebe, Black and White Warbler, Baltimore Oriole and Eastern Kingbird were seen before I caught up with the pewee.
I continued along the road, noting Tufted Titmouse and Grey Catbird. Forgetting where I was, I claimed a couple of Black-capped Chickadees before eBird caught up with me and reminded me that this was Carolina Chickadee country.

The next notable building along the drive is Rocklands. I caught a quick glimpse of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird coming in to feed on the bushes and herbs (?) at the front of the house and stopped to wait and see if it would come back.

The aromatic flowers here attracted butterflies by the score and I spent a merry hour trying to do them justice with the camera and now I must do them the honour of finding out who they are. There are plenty of butterfly websites available, but they are less than perfect when it comes to identifying species, so I am now in the market for a Butterflies of USA fieldguide.

On the return, I was stopped by a Double-crested Cormorant on the river. It had caught a huge fish and was trying to swallow it whole. I have been accused of being a glutton, but at least I stop and think before trying to eat anything bigger than my own head.

Birds seen;29

Canada Goose 15, Wood Duck 6, Mallard 10, Double-crested Cormorant 11, Turkey Vulture 1, Red-shouldered Hawk 1, Ring-billed Gull 2, Chimney Swift 12, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2, Northern Flicker 3, Eastern Wood-pewee 2, Eastern Phoebe 1, Eastern Kingbird 4, Warbling Vireo, 2, Blue Jay 3, Barn Swallow 18, Carolina Chickadee 2, Tufted Titmouse 2, American Robin 90, Grey Catbird 5, Black and white Warbler 1, American Redstart 1, European Starling 8, Chipping Sparrow 6, Song Sparrow 3, Common Grackle 1, Baltimore Oriole 1, American Goldfinch 12, House Sparrow 50.

Black Saddlebags

For previous posts from Philadelphia, see the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and CanadaPage for more posts from the region.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Central Park, New York, August 2013

It was my pleasure to escort my beautiful colleague, JC, around Central Park this morning. We set out bright and early, wishing that the sun could have mustered the same enthusiasm. Sadly the weather was drizzly with low clouds and horrible light for pictures. The Ramble felt like a tropical jungle in New York’s humidity.
It was a slow day with most of the birds being the reliable and expected ones. JC was unfamiliar with American birds, so everything was new and exciting, even the young and female Northern Cardinals. We entered The Ramble from the boathouse and explored The Spit and The Oven without much success.

A Black-crowned Night Heron perched on a curved branch at Azalea Pond, but I had to poke the ISO up to 1250 and use the widest aperture to get a shot in the gloom without shakes.

During dinner with Corey the night before (isn’t curry and carrot cake expensive in New York?), he primed me for Northern Waterthrush which came a-bob, bob, bobbing along the damp margin on the far side of the pond. 
We dropped in close to the upper lobe of the Boating Lake and caught a glimpse of the white rumps of some Northern Flickers and a juvenile Eastern Towhee.

We headed up to Belvedere Castle (Google Earth ref; 40 46 45.98N 73 58 8.43W) where some cardinals and Carolina Wrens were calling excitedly. We looked, but couldn’t see what was worrying them. Barn Swallows flew low over Turtle Pond, Tree Swallows and Chimney Swifts kept much higher. A Solitary Sandpiper was seen perched on the rocks at the base of the castle before we dropped down into the Shakespeare Garden and up to the reservoir.

The reservoir was as quiet as I have ever seen it with just a few Mallards, Double-crested Cormorants and a single Ring-billed Gull.

We headed back and took another pass through The Ramble. The light had improved slightly and I was wondering if the waterthrush was still around. Just before Azalea Pond, I turned left instead of right, intending to show JC where the feeders are usually set up. We were surprised to see an active feeder in August and stopped for a moment to watch some House Finches, Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays.

Suddenly, a yellow flash betrayed the swishing tail of a female American Redstart and as I looked, a Blue-winged Warbler nipped into view. A Black & White Warbler put in an appearance and I felt as if we were in the middle of a mini migration. I suspect that JC may have become a little amused by my sudden animation. Credit to Corey who also predicted these warblers. 

Now tell me; do warblers come to feeders? I have always presumed that they do not, but it seemed odd that five birds from three species were seen within ten feet of an active feeder, but nowhere else. They didn’t come to the feeder, but gleaned from the foliage nearby. They seemed to target small bunches of dead leaves for preference. 

Could it be that more insects are found close to feeders? Perhaps the higher concentrations of birds/squirrels/rats in the vicinity produce more waste which attracts more insects? Do they like the company of other birds gathered around the feeders, or, was it just a small party passing by coincidence?

I had foolishly predicted that we might easily find three species of woodpecker. Apart from a calling Downy Woodpecker and a flash of white from a couple of Northern Flicker rumps, we had not had any real success. But at last, just as we were about to leave The Ramble via Bow Bridge, a Northern Flicker sat up to be counted.

By late morning the cloud had lifted slightly and a Gray Catbird came out to have its picture taken in the slowly improving light. This one was the only bird to step out of the gloom all day, but came so close that the camera could no longer focus.

Bird seen; 28

Canada Goose 6, Mallard 40, Double-crested Cormorant 20, Great Blue Heron 1, Great Egret 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 1, Solitary Sandpiper 1, Ring-billed Gull 1, Mourning Dove 8, Chimney Swift 6, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1, Northern Flicker 4, Blue Jay 12, Tree Swallow 3, Barn Swallow 12, Carolina Wren 5, American Robin 100, Grey Catbird 12, European Starling 20, Northern Waterthrush 1, Blue-winged Warbler 2, Black and white Warbler 2, American Redstart 1, Eastern Towhee 1, Northern Cardinal 12, Common Grackle 6, House Finch 5, House Sparrow 120.

A selection of previous posts from Central Park can be seen at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from Central Park and other sites in New York, including Jamaica Bay.

Monday 12 August 2013

Don Valley Brick Works, Toronto, August 2013

Don Valley Brick Works Park is a charming reserve a short bus ride from the lake front in Toronto. It has some interactive features for the kids and has turned an industrialised site into a green and pleasant area. Whilst I am not often fulsome in my appreciation of art, there were a couple of pieces that I found quite engaging. One was a large installation made from a rusted sheet of metal, hung from the side of one of the buildings. It showed the outline of Greater Toronto with the Don Valley picked out in plants that grew through from behind. Water trickled along the water courses and dripped into a shallow tray beneath where House Sparrows bathed. I don’t think it would be too effusive to describe it as “fitting”.

From the bus, it is a short walk to the brickworks and the chimney is visible as one gets closer.

A Gray Catbird was calling as I passed and I stopped to see if something was upsetting it. A young Cooper’s Hawk appeared nonplussed by the attention it was receiving and sat until I passed beneath it.

The industrial buildings of the old brick pit are now used as cycling practice areas and there is a garden store and café. Beyond these are the wildflower meadows and the ponds which have been created in the flooded quarry. American Goldfinches were immediately obvious and were the most numerous bird today after the House Sparrow. In a gap between the buildings, a Downy Woodpecker worked its way through some small trees.

The steep side to the west of the quarry is wooded and a Great Crested Flycatcher was seen in there with a pair of Baltimore Orioles and the only Common Grackles of the day.

The east side of the quarry is covered with seasonal weeds and wildflowers. There were plenty more goldfinches feeding there and they seemed especially keen on the sunflowers (which I think are actually yellow daisies (?)). A path leads up to a viewpoint with a Warbling Vireo, Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow Warbler and American Robins feeding from the berry trees as I climbed the slope.

A dead tree was busy with Eastern Kingbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Flicker and Hairy Woodpecker as well as more goldfinches. Over a rise to the right, I found a disused (I assumed) railway line. Northern Cardinal and my first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the year were found here.

Back down in the quarry, a path leads through the meadow with some easy access boardwalks crossing the corners of a couple of the ponds.

The reeds in the margins were very productive with Eastern Kingbird, Warbling Vireo, and Eastern Wood Pewee.

An Eastern Phoebe called half-heartedly while dipping its tail. I should have made more of the oding opportunities this morning. One Blue Dasher caught my attention as it sunbathed by the path. Plenty of Common Green Darners were seen in flight up on the ridge.

In one of the ponds, small fish responded to some crumbs thrown in by a small child. These were soon pushed aside by a Snapping Turtle that came up to assume the feeding privileges.

Birds seen; 29

Great Blue Heron 1, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Ring-billed Gull 10, Chimney Swift 10, Downy Woodpecker 3, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Northern Flicker 2, Eastern Wood-Pewee 1, Eastern Phoebe 2, Great Crested Flycatcher 1, Eastern Kingbird 3, Warbling Vireo 10, Purple Martin 8, Barn Swallow 8, Black-capped Chickadee 2, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 2, American Robin 15, Grey Catbird 3, European Starling 15, Cedar Waxwing 30, Common Yellowthroat 1,Yellow Warbler 2, Song Sparrow 2, Northern Cardinal 3, Red-winged Blackbird 5, Common Grackle 3, Baltimore Oriole 3, American Goldfinch 40, House Sparrow 80.

Starting before 06.00, Bus no. 75 leaves Toronto’s waterfront from Lower Jarvis Street at Queen’s Quay East, Northside (see Google Earth ref;43 38 39.41N 79 22 9.01W) and passes South Rd and Glen Drive (see Google Earth ref; 43 40 39.38N 79 22 29.58W). A gravel track, Milkman’s Lane, leads steeply down to a stream and becomes Beltline Trail. Keep right and pass alongside the freeway junction. The chimney from the brick pit (see Google Earth ref; 43 41 4.17N 79 21 56.25W) should soon be visible and the walk from the bus stop is just over 1km.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more posts from Toronto including High Park and Harbour Square.

ps. when in Toronto, visit the Open Air Book and Map Shop. It is a basement shop down some stairs at the corner of Toronto and Adelaide. It is exactly what it claims to be and even with agoraphilia like mine, I find it a pleasure to spend hours inside. Bird books and mammal encyclopaedia, insects, travel. There are no books about cooking or teen idols, no magazines about overexposed celebrities, just outdoor books and maps.
A Peregrine Falcon breeds on a building across the road from the shop. Each year, volunteers with bikes, rucksacks and radios collect the newly fledged chicks when they make their maiden flights. Apparently the tram lines are a bad hazard. The volunteers communicate on where the chick came down and the cyclist picks it up, puts it in the rucksack and takes it back up in the lift to the roof of the nest building to try again.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Kalindi Kunj, New Delhi, August 2013

Went birding, had curry. ‘Nuff said.

A typical day in New Delhi during the monsoon is likely to involve intense rain at some point. The sky was overcast, but the clouds didn’t look too heavy as we arrived, so I grabbed a cab straight away and took a drive out to Kalindi Kunj while it was still dry.

There is a hooked spit that is built upstream of the bridge over the Jamuna River at Google Earth ref; 28 32 57N 77 18 56E. It must have been built with a specific purpose in mind, but I have no idea what that purpose might have been. It has stone clad banks and steps by the bridge which give access to the waters of this Ganges tributary.
The bridge marks the border between New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh (UP). Taxi drivers will be charged a toll and a border tax for crossing, so they are understandably reticent to drop you at the hook spit. I was dropped on the Delhi side and had to walk half-way across the bridge to get there. In the distance upstream I could see a feeding throng of Great White Pelicans, Greater Flamingos and Painted Storks.

Indian Pond Herons stood on the bridge supports and amongst the mats of floating weed. The river was flowing quickly from the rains, but the levels are managed by a set of barrages under the bridge.

It took about 15 minutes to walk to the spit and the madness of the traffic on the bridge faded quickly behind me as I looked out across the river. A movement caught my attention  and I looked down to see a Three-striped Palm Squirrel facing down a young Shikra. I clumsily reached for my camera and broke the spell. With less to lose, the sparrow hawk blinked first and flew off leaving the squirrel puffed and pumped. It alighted not too far off and was still available for a picture, but a good chance had been missed.

The steps by the bridge lead down to the water’s edge where the floating weeds got caught up in the bankside vegetation. A Purple Swamphen looked up from the weeds and a Lesser Coucal peered out from the reeds. Delhi is very close to the edge of the Lesser Coucal’s range, but fits well with the Greater Coucal’s distribution. I only got a very brief look at the bird, but decided to go with Lesser as they prefer damper conditions in my experience.

River Terns and Whiskered Terns patrolled the river. I took a decision for Whiskered despite their status as a winter visitor. On the first day of August, the more likely sternid should have been the resident Black-bellied Tern, but I preferred the markings of the Whiskered.

A mud path runs the length of the spit though it was stitched closed by spiders’webbing today. Obviously no-one had been along the path for a while except for a family of Common Mongooses which leave their footprints on soft parts of the path and must pass beneath the silk strands.

A pair of Jungle Babblers looked down from a high branch, but soon lost interest and turned their attention back to each other.

Further along the spit, the trees become taller and come together overhead to form an arch and the feeling of being in a leafy cavern. The view out onto the river is blocked by the foliage and the House Crows had gathered to berate me. At first I thought that the crows were mobbing another Shikra that had just flown in, but they followed me for the rest of the walk and drowned out any other sounds with their cawing.

I wanted to get a closer look at the pelicans that I had seen from the bridge and had to clamber down the overgrown bank to find a viewpoint. A White-breasted Kingfisher perched on a snag surrounded by floating mats of weed. Stakes and posts had been driven into the riverbed and the mats were catching on them and forming larger rafts. The stakes may have been installed for just this reason, or perhaps they were to anchor fishing nets. The river is very polluted, but recent initiatives have been ordered to try to clean it up. Judging by the fishing activity below the bridge, there is still plenty to catch.

The birds appeared to be actively feeding. The Great White Pelicans formed a flotilla and corralled fish into a tight shoal before plunging their beaks in to scoop some up. The Greater Flamingos sieved as they moved slowly and quietly along.

A Common Tailorbird sang for me as I returned to the start of the spit.
Back on the bridge, I crossed the traffic and took a look downstream. The sandbanks move around and had migrated downstream compared to my last visit. I wanted to see if any River Lapwings might be found, but the small Vanellus shapes were too distant to identify.

Back on the Delhi shore, I found that it was possible to cut along the bank and followed it downstream hoping to get a closer look. It looks as if the Metro is extending its influence to here as a boarded work-site seems to indicate. Unfinished pilings in the water suggest that it may eventually even cross the river.

As I got closer, it became clear that the distant shapes were those of the sought after River Lapwing and I was also able to add Red-wattled Lapwing and Ashy Prinia before heading back to the road.

Birds seen; 34

Indian Spot-billed Duck 40, Greater Flamingo 45, Painted Stork 16, Great White Pelican 18, Grey Heron 1, Purple Heron 10, Cattle Egret 8, Indian Pond Heron 20, Black-crowned Night Heron 2, Red-naped Ibis 3, Black Kite 15, Shikra 2, White-breasted Waterhen 2, Purple Swamphen 2, River Lapwing 6, Red-wattled Lapwing 5, Whiskered Tern 10, River Tern 30, Eurasian Collared Dove 2, Lesser Coucal 1, White-throated Kingfisher 2, Green Bee-eater 8, Indian Roller 1, Black Drongo 2, House Crow 60, Red-vented Bulbul1, Common Tailorbird 1, Yellow-bellied Prinia 1, Ashy Prinia 1, Jungle Babbler 2, Bank Myna 30, Common Myna 40, Asian Pied Starling 2, Purple Sunbird 4. 

Taxi (around IR300) or private car is the only way for a visitor to Delhi to get to the bridge at the moment, though the Metro may reach there in the future. To return, it may be worth considering asking the driver to wait for you.

Taxis do not cross the bridge without a fare, so the ones coming in my direction were all full and there were not many punters who wanted to be dropped at the end of the bridge. There is a car park where tuk-tuks gather (upstream of the bridge on the Delhi side at Google Earth ref;  28 32 45.46N 77 18 26.46E), but I had difficulty finding a driver that knew the way back to my hotel and the one who did, demanded three times the price for the outbound journey in an air-conditioned car!

For a previous post from Kalindi Kunj, follow the link below;

Visit the dedicated India Page for more posts from Delhi including Tughluqabad Fort and Sultanpur.