Birding in Central Park

We arrived in New York City on Saturday, July 6th, and on Sunday morning at 9 am I went on a bird walk with Bob DeCandido (“Birding Bob”) and Deb Allen in Central Park. It was a very hot day (we found at the end of the day there had been an extreme heat and humidity warning for City), but we saw some great birds including an early migrant — a female Black-and-white Warbler, which was very exciting.

I counted 27 species in total on the Central Park walk, and added Chimney Swift, Great-crested Flycatcher, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, and Black-and-white Warbler to my “Year List”.

The walk started at the Turtle Pond dock and it was very nice to be greeted by about 15 Red-eared Sliders,

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A Red-eared Slider,

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A Red-bellied Woodpecker,

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Part of the group watching a Great-crested Flycatcher,

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I saw three Black-crowned Night Herons throughout the walk ,

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A Northern Flicker nest,

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What would Central Park be without seeing a squirrel?

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A shy Carolina Wren,

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A pair of Mallards at the boat pond,

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A Double-crested Cormorant drying off at the Boat pond,

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I was only one foot away from this Mallard. That’s the beauty of Central Park — the birds are so used to people,

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I had an excellent time with the other birders, got some good photos, and saw some great species. Central Park is such a wonderful place, and Bob and Deb are great park guides!

Here we are at the end of our walk, with Bob and Debra on the right. Thank you again for such a wonderful time (and the only real birding I got in while in NYC)!

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My Birding Equipment

When I first started birding, I didn’t have any equipment at all, other than some not-very-good binoculars my father had. But slowly I started getting some items as presents, and lately have been saving money from selling eggs and my 4H steers for what I know I would like and could use.

You can either go all out with top-of-the-line equipment, and lots of it, or just have basic binoculars, a camera, and a field guide. I’m probably somewhere in the middle, with a basic older pair of binoculars and a couple of pretty basic cameras, but a Swarovski scope.

My binoculars are Nikon 8×42 Monarchs given to me by my grandfather in 2009 when I started birding. One of the eye-cups has broken since, but I’m used to it so it doesn’t affect my viewing. My most used field guide is the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. I’ve used it so much that it’s held together with clear packing tape. The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds, which I won a copy of last summer, is also very good and helpful when I’m trying to figure out the age of raptors. I can’t wait until the Western Birds edition is out.

I have two cameras, both Canon Powershots. One, which was my grandfather’s (I think he bought it in 2008), is a Canon Powershot SX10IS 10MP Digital Camera. It takes quite good pictures on auto, though I’m trying to learn more about manual; I find the auto setting easier and am having trouble with the white balance. The other is a Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS, which is very good, takes excellent close-ups, and is good for my digiscoping. I started wring this post before I interviewed birder and photographer, Mia McPherson. In her interview, she gave some great suggestions for beginning photographers and I need to put her advice to use and get to know my equipment better.

A Carolina Wren at the Long Point Bird Observatory, taken with the ELPH100 HS,

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The most recent addition to my equipment is my spotting scope, which we bought in May and which I finally repaid my parents for at Christmas. My scope is a Swarovski ATM 80 with a 20-60 zoom eyepiece and the tripod is a Manfrotto 190 with 128RC head. I bought it from Pelee Wings which had a great price and wonderful service. If you have the money to spare, I definitely recommend buying a Swarovski. The clarity is excellent, and it’s a very well made scope. My scope isn’t getting much use this winter because in northern Alberta there are no open ponds, lakes, or sloughs in winter, but I used it a great deal from late May until November, and even took it to Long Point with me. I can’t wait to use my scope this coming spring and will take it with me every time I go out.

Now that I have a scope, I’m learning about digiscoping. Right now, I’m hand-holding or using a homemade adapter with my ELPH100 HS, but getting the camera so it’s centered is a little tricky, so I need to practice more. An adapter would make taking photos much easier. The set-up I would like is the Swarovski digital camera adapter and the Vortex PS-100 point-and-shoot attachment. The adapter is a little pricy, so I’ll just have to wait until I’ve saved up some more. Until then, hand-holding and using the home-made adapter works well.

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If you are especially happy with something you use for birding, whether it’s a field guide or some equipment, please mention it in the comments below. Thank you!

Back from the YOW, Part 1

Wow! I don’t know exactly where to start, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning. I had an amazing experience at the YOW (Doug Tarry Young Ornithologists’ Workshop) at Long Point, Ontario. I have so much to write about that I’m going to post about my adventures at Long Point in two (maybe more) parts.

Aug. 3rd: I arrived a day early for the YOW to make sure I was at Long Point in time the program to start on the 4th. I flew on my own from Edmonton, Alberta, to Hamilton, Ontario, a nonstop direct flight on WestJet.  Stuart Mackenzie, LPBO Program Coordinator, picked me up at the airport and drove me to Old Cut.

When I arrived LPBO, I met Ana, LPBO assistant co-ordinator, and Matt, an LPBO intern. This year’s YOW program was run by Stu, Ana, Matt, and Jody, biologist and science educator. It was great being at Old Cut, because you could walk around the area and watch birds, which was perfect.

An Eastern Wood-Pewee,

Aug. 4th: The other YOWs arrived around lunchtime — four boys and two other girls. Saskia is from British Columbia, Katie from Ontario, Justin from Ontario, Cody from Ontario, Antoine from Quebec, and Eitan from Pennsylvania (he is Canadian-American). In the afternoon, Matt and Ana showed us how to put up and take down mist nets, used to catch the birds for banding. In the evening we went on a mock census walk to familiarize ourselves with the route. Ana and Matt go on census every morning starting around 7am for an hour.

Aug. 5th: We woke up at 5:45, ate breakfast, then opened the 14 nets at 6 am. That morning was the first day of watching banding for the YOWs, we didn’t band anything but it was still very neat to watch Ana and Matt banding. Most of the birds we caught were hatch-year Gray Catbirds, and many of them were re-traps. Three of the species we caught in the nets were life birds for me, American Redstart, Carolina Wren, and Black-and-White Warblers.

A Carolina Wren,

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In the afternoon we had a trip planned, but Matt, Ana, and Liza (from the Birds Studies Canada office) wouldn’t tell us where we were going. We drove about 10 minutes north of Old Cut to Pterophylla farm run by Mary Gartshore. When we arrived, I saw two hummingbird feeders, with about 20 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flying around. First, Mary told us a little about what she does at her farm, then she showed us her Australian Shepherd  puppies which were very cute.

Saskia with one of Mary’s puppies,

While we were with the puppies, David Okines, an Ontario hummingbird bander and president of the Ontario Bird Banding Association, was catching the hummingbirds with a net placed over the feeders; he could raise or lower the net with some string that he was able to control from the back door of his car. None of us had any idea that we were going to have the chance to band hummingbirds, and for all of us this was the first bird we have ever banded. The bands for hummingbirds are so small. I think we all had a fear a losing a band and two did get lost. I found it quite hard to band hummingbirds because they are so small and their legs are so short. All of us were very excited to band hummingbirds and we couldn’t thank Mr. Okines enough for the opportunity.

Hummingbird bands come on a sheet of aluminum which have to be cut out, shaped, and filed,

Weighing the hummingbird (the bird is put in a little tube to immobilize it), as you can see it  weighed 1.7 grams,

If you put hummingbirds on their backs, they don’t move,

Aug. 6th: There was more banding today, with the highlights being Mourning Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, American Robin, and Rose-breasted  Grosbeak. I wasn’t present for all the banding because Katie, Saskia, Stu, and I went on the hour-long census walk. We were able to count 30 species on the census route.

In the afternoon we prepared for our boat trip to the Tip of Long Point, we were all very excited about it! The boat ride, with a small motorboat took about two hours, and on the the way we stopped at some sandbars to look at the gulls, terns, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Sanderlings. The Tip is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. Although there were people walking along the beaches, our group were the only people inland. Once we had brought all of our supplies to the house, Stu told us to get ready for a scavenger hunt.

He split us up into two teams, and we each had quite a few things we had to collect: sand from both beaches, evidence of a reptile, driftwood, photo of a Monarch, milkweed pod, a piece of the lighthouse, a Fowler’s Toad, and a few more objects. My team did quite well, we found all but two objects. One of the objects we didn’t find, but the other team found a small Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle, a turtle that is threatened provincially and nationally. The turtle they found was quite small but they can grow to be very large.

Katie and the turtle,

Aug. 7th: Our Tip census started at 7:15. We saw Great Blue Heron, Green Herons, Traill’s Flycatcher, Red-breasted Mergansers, Field Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Barn Swallows, Yellow Warblers,  Cedar Waxwings, Ring-billed Gulls, just to name a few.

From 10:30 to 1:00 Ana showed us how to conduct a Breeding Bird Survey, though of course there aren’t any breeding birds at this time of year. Most of the birds we had already seen on census, but we did see a Red Fox and a Sharp-shinned Hawk being chased by a Eastern Kingbird. From 1:00 to 4:30 we went swimming and played monkey in the middle in beautiful Lake Erie, which was lots of fun! At 5:30 we started our Monarch butterfly survey, the goal being to count as many Monarchs on our census route, and we also were to count other butterflies we saw on the route. We counted 91 Monarchs, three Painted Ladies, one Orange Sulphur, four Cabbage Whites, one Northern Crescent, and one Red Admiral. While looking for butterflies, Saskia found a Fowler’s Toad, an other threatened species.

Painted Lady,

Stay tuned for part two! I hope to get it up as soon possible.