Birds on Ice in Early January: Our Walks Resume on 13 January
Updated: Mar 1
3 January 2018 SCHEDULE NOTES! This Sunday, 7 January the weather forecast is severe: 9f (Nine Fahrenheit!) temperature at 9:30am and windy...Certainly much too cold to do a bird walk. With such a forecast we can do nothing better than cancel this Sunday's bird walk. Not to worry: the following Saturday-Sunday (14-15 January, Martin L. King weekend), we will be doing owl walks at Inwood Hill Park and Van Cortlandt Park for Eastern Screech-owls and Great Horned Owls, as well as our usual Sunday morning walk. The cold wave is expected to end by Monday, 8 January. To repeat: stay home Sunday 7 January because there is no morning bird walk due to extremely cold weather. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show Horned Larks feeding and in flight at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. This week's historical notes provide information on (a) an early migrant plover [March 1888] in Manhattan - probably a Killdeer; (b) hunting Brant geese on Long Island (1888); (c) Eastern Meadowlarks, Belted Kingfisher and other birds seen at a Government Post in winter 1888 (David's Island in the Long Island Sound off of New Rochelle); (d) Snowy Owls in New Jersey (1890); and finally (e), some birds of the New York Meadows (Inwood Hill Park area) including woodcocks, snipe and Meadowlarks in September 1887.
Deborah Allen sends Photos from the NYC Area: Horned Lark in Snow, Sunday December 31, 2017:
Horned Lark Flock in Flight, Saturday December 30, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18449044/Horned-Lark-Flock-in-Flight Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site:
Good! Here are the bird walks for early/mid January - each $10
1. CANCELLED Sunday, 7 January - 9:30am - Central Park - Boathouse CANCELLED ---- 2. Saturday, 13 January - 5pm - Eastern Screech-owls of Van Cortlandt Park (Bronx).
3. Sunday, 14 January - 9:30am - Central Park - Boathouse
3a. Sunday, 14 January 2018 - 5pm - Eastern Screech-owls of Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan). ---- 4. Saturday, 20 January - 5pm - Eastern Screech-owls and Great Horned Owls
(Location and time to be determined).
The fine print: In January, our walks every Sunday meet at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approximately 74th street and the East Drive on the lake; it is NOT one of the buildings on the nearby Model Boat Pond). Bathrooms are nearby and ok; they open at about 7:30am. On Saturdays we sometimes meet at the Boathouse (74th street and the East Drive) at 9:30am - but check schedule on web site and here because we often go further afield such as NYBG in the Bronx. Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= firstname.lastname@example.org). We have a new web site...if in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check the web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 7:30pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk! We end all our weekend Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon - you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total - coffee is now $2.75). Our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue.
Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations. Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Saturday, 30 December - OWLS (start at Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx, at 4:30pm/dusk) - tonight was the first owl walk on which we had two owl species, both Eastern Screech and Great Horned, though it was the latter owl that saved the night. We began at 4:30pm because there was an expectation that the mild snow fall would last into the early evening and clouds would bring on dark dark earlier than on a clear night. This did not not happen - it was clear so we spent much time stamping our feet (it was 18f) and waiting for the right time. With so much stomping and movement we must have seemed an elephant herd. The Eastern Screech-owl we saw was flying and landed 50 yards from us, high in a tree. Try as we may, we could not bring it in closer - very different than one year ago here at VC Park, or even the result at Inwood Hill Park last week. We decided to move toward the woods, and play the Great Horned Owl call. Within two minutes we had the big owl fly in over us - this somewhat warmed the souls of the Bronx arctic owl watchers. At one point we had the owl approx. 20 feet above us and folks were able to obtain fine (no flash) photos - see Deborah's photo above. We are not done here at VC Park - we have screech-owls to find in at least two places - and we want those close-up looks... ================================= Sunday, 31 December and Monday 1 January 2018 (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am) - No bird walks today. We cancelled due to the extreme cold (about 10f at 9:30am with strong winds).
EARLY PLOVER . March 25. At about 2 o'clock P. M. to-day, within 50yds. of Spuyten Duyvil Station [Manhattan], I saw on some ice a plover. I got within 30yds. of it and it rose and flew over an open piece of water, and piped out two notes twice, which sounded like ''You know." A man saw him, and showed the early bird to a couple of his friends. Is this not uncommon for this kind of bird to be here so early, and prefer ice to mud, as there was plenty of the latter in the Harlem River, opposite the workings of the new canal near Kingsbridge. F. BILLINGE
BRANT SHOOTING ON LONG ISLAND . THREE of our fowlers have just returned from a brief visit to the south side of Gardiner's Island, where they enjoyed good sport. They killed fifty-two brant and several black duck and shelldrakes [Red-breasted Mergansers]. Indeed the cold sport there was better than we have usually found it at Montauk, some ten miles distant.
Perhaps the noblest fowl and the one that affords the best sport along our coast is the brant. It does not pass into fresh bays or brackish rivers, but confines itself to the seaboard and to strictly salt waters, where it gathers its food. In early November it makes its appearance in the south bays of Long Island and is there at times killed in considerable numbers. We are not aware that it frequents Long Island Sound, or is very abundant at Montauk. In many years of coot shooting on the New England coast we have not met with it and conclude that it passes wide out to sea in its migrations and first falls in with the land on the south side of Long Island and there stops for rest and food. They are shy of passing over a point of meadow, so that the battery gunner, concealed in his box far out on the waters, surrounded by his decoys, has great advantage over the fowler who shoots from some point of the shore. It is a bird that easily falls to shot does not escape by diving. It feeds only on bars at low tide, its chief food being a green-leaved plant called the sea cabbage, but it also feeds on the long ribbons of sea-weed.
The first flocks that arrive remain but a few days and then, collected in large flocks, they rise high in air, and after describing some wide aerial circuits, they strike out in a direct course over the sea, avoiding all projecting points of the coast, and traveling night and day. They are soon succeeded by other flocks, many of which remain with us until the severe weather of late December compels them to a Southern flight. Yet the coot, old squaw, shelldrake and whistlers [Goldeneye] seem to have been here all the past severe weather, and have been killed in our bays in great numbers among the ice openings where the ice itself had formed to the depth of 6 or 8 inches.
There are several good points on the coast for brant shooting, but perhaps the best one is at Cobb's Island, on the Virginia coast, some dozen miles north of Cape Charles. Mr. Cobb was an old Cape Cod gunner and fisher, who chanced years ago before the war [Civil War], to hit upon the little sandy island which now bears his name, and finding it to be an excellent spot for fowling, purchased it for the small sum of $100. He has since greatly improved the place, putting up large buildings for accommodation of city fowlers. Great numbers of bog snipe and of brant and black duck are killed there. We have had rare sport in fishing and shooting in and around the broad waters that lie between the island and the mainland, living only at the latter place.
Brant resort in good numbers to Shinnecock and South bays of Long Island, and in the southeast, deep salt waters of Jersey; but we have seldom seen them in Barnegat Bay, the water being too brackish to suit them. The breeding place of the brant is far in the north, and they are said to be common in Hudson's Bay. They there breed in thick, inaccessible swamps, like the geese, where they are beyond reach of the guns of the white man and the Indian shooter. Issac McLellan, Greenpoint.
THE Snowy Owl . In your columns I saw that Mr. Foster wished all notes possible on the southern limit of the snowy owl. On Nov. 20  one was caught in a trap near Princeton, N.J., a large medium dark female. I shot a male on Dec. 16, 1882, and a bird was taken some three years before. This made three specimens of this owl in my collection, all from this locality. It seems strange that during such a mild winter so many northern birds should migrate so far south. Red crossbills are common here all this winter and red-breasted nuthatches have been common since the last of September, both of these birds I never saw in this locality until last winter. A.H.P. (Lawrenceville, N.J.). ==============================================
BIRDS AT A GOVERNMENT POST . DAVIDS' ISLAND, New York Harbor, March 16. Possibly a few bird notes from this little island may not prove uninteresting although they be as limited as the field of observation itself. Never before have I been confined to a patch of two hundred acres in which to indulge my love for the observation of birds and their habits. Last year, and in fact for some years past, Boston and its suburbs have been my stamping grounds, and rich fields they were, a fact that makes my present barren surroundings, speaking in a bird sense, the harder to bear. There is one bright spot, however, and I congratulate myself that I have seen here what I never dreamed of looking for in New England, namely a kingfisher (M. alcyon) as a winter resident.
On December 10, one perched upon the railing surrounding the government coal dock, and allowed me to approach within twenty feet without manifesting the least uneasiness. Just back of him was a coal shed from which came a noise that only coal shovelers can make, but he paid no heed, and it was not until the steam launch Hamilton blew its whistle under his very bill that he took flight, springing his rattle defiantly the while. I claim him as a resident, for I saw him or one of his cousins, in the same place on January 27, and again in another part of the island in February.
As a boy I hunted meadow larks (S. magna) on the Mohawk flats, but never saw them later than Dec. 1, which is equally true of my Massachusetts observations. Here on Dec. 13 I put up a flock of at least fifty, and have seen them occasionally throughout the entire winter. I feared that the storm of the first of this week might have exterminated them, but a trip yesterday to the only part of the island that in any way resembles a meadow was rewarded by the sight of several larks, apparently as lusty and vigorous as ever. Have our game birds in New Jersey and this State fared as well?
My first spring tramp in the field last year was on February 20, in the vicinity of Concord, Mass. Bluebirds (S. sialis) and robins (T. migratorius) were abundant, and a week later song sparrows (M. melodia) came in numbers. This year to date I have not seen a single bluebird with his patch of ''earth and sky." Is my domain too small to tempt him? The first robin appeared last Tuesday in the midst of a tempest, and seemed thoroughly disgusted with himself for coming then. From the 25th of February I have watched and listened for the song sparrows, but not until the 10th of this month was I rewarded. I heard his note in the wood pile, and approaching, saw him sitting on the topmost log facing the sun, swelling his throat and singing the story of his southern sojourn, and to a sympathetic listener, I can assure you. Birds know those who love them, and he allowed, without evident distrust, a near approach. I adopted him at once as a comrade, although his coat was not of blue, and three days later I gave him a soldier's burial with the honors of war. The blizzard came, and on Tuesday morning last I found Master Melodia in a snowdrift with his sweet song frozen in his throat. I mourned him sincerely and hated to think how many of his race must have likewise perished.
One somber-coated bird I have seen many times, but at too great a distance to accurately describe. It is new to me, and I trust I may yet scrape acquaintance.
NEW YORK MEADOWS ALIVE WITH GAME . A few days ago, while proceeding with a survey over the Dykeman Meadows, at Kings Bridge, at the extreme upper end of Manhattan Island, where the new ship canal is to pass, we had the pleasure of coming in range and raising three woodcock, five meadowlarks and two snipe. On Sept. 17 , when engaged on the line of the old aqueduct, passing through the grounds of Mr. Lewis G. Morris, at Fordham, we marked down fifteen fine, fat, plump meadowlarks within a line of 200yds. of the old aqueduct, which is there quite secluded by a cedar wall environment. Again in various meadows on the river line the like pleasant things occur, with a continuous call note from morn till nightfall, and erewhile the night moon sheds its modest silver rays upon the gloaming, we hear the most welcome call of King Bob White. CANONICUS (Westchester, Sept. 17).
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD www.BirdingBob.com Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC
The Bronx River (north of NYBG) just after a Snowstorm - February 2012