24 January 2018
SCHEDULE NOTES! Starting this SUNDAY, 28 January (9:30am!) there will be a new top gun leading the bird walks: Jeff Ward. He is the Theolonius Monk of the NYC bird scene...the best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18EAqHx2lMk
Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show GULLS in all their glory = much like the graffiti of NYC. Her photos are mostly from NYC, but in honor of the Mew Gull that is hanging around Brooklyn currently, she sends one image of this species from the west coast (Washington State).
There are only two historical notes this week: (a) a late 19th century article on Little Gull Island and nearby Great Gull (Long Island Sound) from a visit by Frank Chapman and company in July 1889. Part 2 will come next week; (b) some comments 2018 (ok not quite historical yet) about the ethics of watching owls by day and night by Kevin McGowan who heads up the bird academy at Cornell University. Many have taken on-line courses via the academy on bird biology, behavior, migration, identification...and perhaps even read his text book.
As you read this Newsletter, Deborah and I are in the state of Utah where we are the keynote speakers at the annual Birding Festival in St. George (southwest part of Utah): http://stgeorgebirdfest.com/
Have you seen these wonderful landscape images (in Black-and-white) of Central Park photographed at night?: http://www.michaelmassaia.com/#/snow/
Graffiti on schist rock near the Bronx River, Winter 2011
Deborah Allen sends Photos of GULLS:
Adult Franklin’s Gull, Plumb Beach, Brooklyn:
Adult Laughing Gull, Plumb Beach, Brooklyn:
Adult Black-headed Gull in winter plumage, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx:
First-winter Black-headed Gull, Prospect Park Brooklyn (2):
First-winter Iceland Gull, Central Park:
Adult Mew Gull in winter plumage, Semiahmoo State Park, Whatcom Co., Washington:
Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site:
Good! Here are the bird walks for early/mid January - each $10
1. Sunday, 28 January - 9:30am - Central Park - Boathouse (Jeff Ward leading the walk)
2. Sunday, 4 February - 9:30am - Central Park - Boathouse
The fine print : In January/February, 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 (= email@example.com). 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.
Graffiti on schist rock along the Bronx River at NYBG, Winter 2013
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:
Sunday, 21 January (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am) - there they were again, almost all of the people we look forward to seeing each week. The previous three weeks of Alaska weather had not caused a mass migration of our birders to FLA. As for birds, it is now the slowest part of the bird year - today featured Ring-necked Duck (male) and three Wood Ducks (all males) at the Reservoir. Yes we had the usual other suspects: nuthatches, downies, white-throated sparrows and three Fox Sparrows, etc. Mostly it was the people...science will have to wait for a warm spel.
Deborah's Bird Notes for the morning: https://tinyurl.com/y8zzxu7m
Sunday, 21 January (Eastern Screech-owls and Great Horned Owls at Van Cortlandt Park [Bronx] - start at 5pm) - we had some luck tonite: we brought in one pair of Eastern Screech-owls (both grey morph) using the tape. We had no luck with a second pair of screech-owls that are usually very reliable to find...and I totally struck out with Great Horned Owls even though they nest in the park...probably 2-3 pairs. We will have more owl walks in February, including the "Ultimate" Snowy Owl trip.
BIRDS OF GULL ISLAND, N. Y.
[Read before the Linnean Society of New York, March 21, 1890.]
IN July, 1889 (8th to 16th inclusive), Mr. Frank M. Chapman, Assistant Curator of Birds and Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, New York city, and the writer visited Little Gull Island, Long Island, New York, for the purpose of making a study of the breeding habits of the colony of terns on the adjoining island, Great Gull, and also to observe the habits and obtain specimens of the jaegers which we expected would be common there about the time of our visit.
We intended to continue and complete as far as possible the investigations commenced in August, 1888, by Basil Hicks.
While the trip was a failure as far as the jaegers were concerned, yet in other respects it proved of greater interest and some value. As I shall have to refer somewhat to the influence of the weather in my notes, I give a tabulated statement of the same herewith:
DATE Mean Temp. Bar. Press. Wind and Weather
July 8 73 30.16 Fresh West; clear
July 9 73 30.25 Light S.E.; clear
July 10 65 30.30 Calm, variable, clear
July 11 70 30.17 Mod. S.E.; rain and fog
July 12 68 30.21 Light; variable; fog
July 13 74 30.16 Light S.E.; clear
July 14 71 30.06 Fresh S.W.; clear
July 15 64 29.98 Hard N.E. to S.E.; rain
July 16 66 30.15 Fresh west; clear
Little Gull Island being so small and situated at the gate of Long Island Sound, it is almost impossible for a bird of any size to pass it without being seen. Moreover, it seems to be in the line of migration of all the smaller birds. The keeper of the lighthouse and his wife were continually on the lookout for anything to break the monotony of their lives, and thus naturally became good bird observers. In many instances they called my attention to birds I would otherwise have overlooked. The following notes of birds seen refer entirely to Great and Little Gull islands and the waters immediately surrounding them:
1. (36) Stercorarius pomarinus Pomarine Jaeger.
2. (37) S. parasiticus Parasitic Jaeger.
The date of our visit to the Gull islands was fixed with a view of arriving just prior to the first run of bluefish. We, however, were too late, as the first schools were seen about July 1. The first bluefish only remained in the vicinity about two days, when they disappeared, and none were seen while we continued at the islands, although they were quite plenty off Montauk Point. Mr. Chas. B. Field, one of the keepers of the light, reported having seen three jaegers on June 2, the first of the season. On the following day one was seen. None were noticed again until the 17th, when two were observed. On the 28th one was noted. On the first and second of July he saw two each day. During our visit we saw jaegers only twice, as follows: 12th, two; 15th, one.
3. (51a) Larus argentatus synithsonianus American Herring Gull. On the 9th, four individuals were seen flying by the island westward and up Gardiner's Bay. The following day a large gull was seen, too far off to be identified, which was presumed to be of this species. While it is not a common occurrence for this species to be seen in the summer months in our latitude, yet I think that a few unmated or barren birds remain with us and wander about from place to place. My notes on the species show that at the eastern end of Long Island they remain in some numbers until about June 10 and are occasionally seen until the 20th, the latter being the latest date I have noted.
4. (60) Larus philadelphia Bonaparte’s Gull. A specimen of this species was shot by Mr. Chapman on the 8th inst., on Great Gull Island. It was in company with the terns who were excitedly flying about us and uttering their cries of alarm at our invasion of their breeding ground. I found in the daily record book of Mr. Chas. B. Field the following notes: "June 22, 1889, saw a tern to-day without the black on edge of wings and a pure white head." "June 23, saw two terns same as yesterday, they are a little larger than the common ones." "June 26, saw one of the white-headed terns to-day." The specimen procured by Mr. Chapman was undoubtedly one of the pair of terns(?) that puzzled Mr. Field so much. I call attention to this, however, simply to show how extremely observing the Long Island gunners are of any differences in the appearance of birds, even when they are flying by. The specimen in question was not in summer plumage, consequently the head at a little distance appeared almost white.
5. (70) Sterna hirundo Common Tern. To visit the ternery on Great Gull Island was one of the primary objects of our trip. This is probably the only place in Long Island where this species now breeds. Formerly they bred in great numbers over almost the whole length of the island on the south shore. But when the sinful fashion to wear their beautiful feathers came into vogue, they were persecuted until they were all either killed, or like so many driven from their ancestral homes. I well remember in times past how beautiful a sight it was to see them in great flocks, fishing on the bays or the broader but rougher waters of the ocean. Nothing now remains but a recollection of what once seemed part of a summer sail. The colony on Great Gull is all that is left of the once vast numbers that spent the summer months on Long Island. Regarding the time of the arrival of the terns at Great Gull Island, I make the following extracts from Mr. Field's daily record book, which he kindly kept for me: "May 15,1889, heard common terns before daylight, fog; May16: saw about a dozen terns; May 17, saw about one hundred terns; May 18 and 19, no increase; May 20, increased in numbers to about one thousand; May 21, still increasing in numbers; May 29, a large bunch arrived this morning; June 2, found first egg to day; July 4, saw first young tern." We arrived on the 8th, at which time there were probably in the neighborhood of from three to four thousand individuals in the colony. Whenever anyone visited Great Gull a large part of the colony would rise up in the air and hover over the intruder, screaming and following him, at times dashing down as if to pierce the object of their wrath with their sharp bills. As the visitor moved away, those were being approached, took up the hue and cry. Scores and scores could have been shot, as many were in range at one time. A very limited number of specimens were taken. The colony I fear will not last many years, as it is entirely unprotected, and is at the mercy of all who choose to visit it. It being right in the track of sailing and fishing parties, and the fact that terns breed there being well known to all the boatmen and fishermen in that section of Long Island and the adjacent shore of Connecticut, is almost a daily occurrence for someone to visit the island for the purpose of egging or wantonly shooting the birds. In this connection I must say that the keepers of the lighthouse do all they can to protect the colony, driving off those whom they can and reasoning with others. If these keepers could be made custodians of the island, with authority to fully protect this colony of terns, it might be preserved as an added charm to that portion of Long Island Sound; if not, in a few years at most the birds will have passed away as many other of nature's charms have faded from our sight before the thoughtlessness or greed of man. On our first visit to the island it was difficult to find the nests and eggs, but in a very short time it became very easy. It was somewhat more difficult to find those that were deposited on the beach than on the grassy upland portion of the island. The terns seemed to have no choice between the beach or upland, as eggs were quite as common in the one locality as the other. The number of eggs varied both as to numbers in a set and in coloration to a remarkable degree. While the usual set was three eggs, yet in a large number of cases four eggs were found, in a number of cases five, and in three instances six eggs were found in one nest. One of these large sets is now in my collection. I have no reason to doubt that this set was the clutch of a single female. In a great many sets I noticed usually one, but sometimes two eggs that were entirely abnormal in coloration, having a light blue ground with the usual markings. This color, however, seems to fade in time. In a set taken containing one of the blue eggs, that one now shows no trace of that color, it simply having a somewhat lighter ground color than the balance of the set. Regarding the subject of whether this species covers its eggs during the day time I concluded as the result of my observations that they did. I examined many nests, feeling the eggs, and always found them warm. Again, when the island was visited the terns arose from the ground. Further, on several occasions I remained quietly lying on the ground until I had marked the place where I had seen a tern alight, and, on going to the spot always found a nest of warm eggs. On the 15th occurred a very hard easterly storm, and during that day very few terns were seen at all. The colony was not disturbed by anyone and but few of the birds seemed to leave the island. Those that were seen were fishing where the waters were the roughest, seeming not to mind in the least the gale of wind or the white-capped waves. Although I was at the Great Gull almost daily for eight days, yet the number of young birds seen was not to exceed ten at the most. It is true that almost as soon as the young chick leaves the shell it hides, yet no evidence of hatched eggs were found until almost the last time the island was visited, when I found a number of nests that had contained eggs when last seen now contained only remnants of the shells of one, two, or all the eggs. The same day I found a dead bird that was almost ready to fly when it died. It must have been hidden very closely, as the place where it was found dead had been visited very often before.
6. (62) Sterna dougalli Roseate Tern. With the colony of the preceding species on Great Gull we found a few pairs of roseate terns. They were undoubtedly breeding, but only one set of eggs was obtained that could positively be referred to this species. Mr. Chapman was standing by a nest containing two eggs, when a roseate tern made repeated dashes at him, and exhibited far more than the usual alarm displayed. The bird was secured and proved to be a female. The nest was marked and was visited on the succeeding day, when the eggs were found to be cold. This is the only case that could be called reasonable identification. We probably saw not more than ten pairs of this species. They were very easy to distinguish from the common tern while in the air. The color of the underpart alone would serve to distinguish them without any other characteristics, but to this must be added the different shape of the tail and the entirely distinct cry. This latter when once heard could not be mistaken. When the cry of one or a pair of terns was heard, although hundreds of the common tern were in the air at the same time, each one of which was uttering its cry of alarm, yet the notes of the roseates could be heard, and the birds immediately picked out from the multitude that were hovering or darting over and around us. During our many visits to the colony we did not make an error in selecting a bird for a specimen. The set of eggs taken was found on the grassy upland in a slight hollow from which a small stone had been taken. The hollow was lined with a few pieces of fine grass, but with not the slightest attempt at nest building.
7. (77) Hydrochelidon nigra surinamensis Black Tern. In Mr. Field's record book he had noted on July 6, "Saw to-day a tern almost black flying with the rest." On the morning of the12th we saw a black tern fishing with the common terns, and the same afternoon, while on Great Gull Island, it came almost within gunshot of us, so there was no doubt of its identification. It was probably the same bird that was seen on each of the three occasions.
[to be concluded.]
Re: [nysbirds-l] The delicate politics of chasing owls.
Kevin J. McGowan
Sat, 20 Jan 2018
I agree with the logic of this article, and have made the same argument for years. Owls are not particularly vulnerable to disturbance, and they are spectacular ambassadors to non-birders. Do you know how many Northern Saw-whet and Boreal owls exist in the world, and how few ever encounter people (other than, perhaps, over-exuberant banders ;^))? One in a publicly-available spot can generate so much goodwill that, as an educator, I would argue to disturb its sleep a few times so that people can experience it.
It's boils down to the old saw: people only protect what they love, and they don't love anything they don't know. And, I would add that the best way to learn to love owls is to actually see one face-to-face in the wild.
But, from my experience on this issue, people seem to have become almost as religious in their views as the cats-as-predators one. I am happy to see a logical, not emotional public piece about it, nonetheless.
That's my humble opinion, and I don't expect everyone to agree. Just saying...
Kevin McGowan PhD
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC
Graffiti near the Bronx River at West Farms, Winter 2012
Graffiti near the Bronx River at West Farms, Winter 2012