City Birds

I was hoping my first bird of 2012 wouldn’t be a pigeon, but, the fact that I was ringing in the new year in New York City, didn’t bode well for that.  Sure enough, as we headed out on the morning of the First to take in sights, a Rock Pigeon landed in our path.  It felt like a bad omen.  The next few hundred birds I saw were also Rock Pigeons.  Then I got to thinking, why not a pigeon?  Sure they are commonplace.  Most city dwellers deal with them daily.  They probably aren’t on anyone’s life list.  Most birders probably don’t even count them. But Rock Pigeons are birds too.  And it’s inevitable that I’m going to see one eventually this year, so why not start off my 2012 Year List with one?  As we continued our sightseeing in lower Manhattan and I ran across some more typical city birds — House Sparrows, European Starlings, Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls.  Finally at Liberty Island I was rewarded with a new bird for my Life List — a small gaggle of Brandts grooming the well-manicured lawn behind the statue.  I was armed with only an iPhone, but here are a few shots of my New Year’s Day birding excursion in New York City.

Rock Pigeon at Word Trade Center Memorial

Herring Gull hoping you don’t read the sign

Brandts foraging on Liberty Island

Rock Pigeons at Battery Park

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South Florida’s Boat-tailed Grackles

Boat-tailed Grackles aren’t a very exciting find for a birder in South Florida.  Their population here is huge and they are everywhere.  You will find them in fields, yards, parking lots and just about anywhere you go.  Regardless of whether you are looking for birds or not, in South Florida you come across them every day. They are omnivorous, which means that, not unlike myself, they will eat just about anything.  Their diet ranges from berries to snails to other birds to garbage.  (I personally stop short of garbage.)  The males are jet black and are often mistaken for crows, while the females have brown heads.  Many people, bird lovers included, find them a nuisance because of their ever present numbers, aggressive behavior and loud call, which reminds me a of a swing set in need of a good oiling.  On the positive side they are big, strong and beautiful birds.  Their immense and concentrated population and their boldness make them an easy bird to find, observe and photograph.  Here are some shots of Boat-tailed Grackles I have taken over the past year.

Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major)

Boat-tailed Grackle male hovering over a small pond.

Boat-tailed Grackle female in flight.

Boat-tailed Grackle – Father and Son

Boat-tailed Grackle – Feeding Time

Tree decorated with Boat-tailed Grackles and one European Starling (Top Left)

Two Boat-tailed Grackle females captured with my cell phone in a grocery store parking lot.

Broken Foot Birder Part II

If you have been following my blog since its inception you may recall my first post, The Broken Foot Birder. It was composed in September of 2010 while I was recovering from a broken foot.  I was frustrated about missing out on things due to my dependency on crutches, and it was during this time period that I decided to take up birding and blogging. Now, in an uncanny turn of fate akin to being struck by lightning twice, I have once again broken my foot.  This time I fell of a ledge while hanging Christmas lights on my house.  Technically I jumped off the ledge, and I should probably add that I jumped due to a swarm of wasps coming out of a nest I had disturbed, lest you think that I am prone to reckless ledge-jumping.  The result was a crushed heel that must now be surgically repaired.  So I have once again donned the Broken Foot Birder moniker and figure it is time for another session of introspective analysis.

I have been birding for a little over a year, and, although I am still relatively new at it, I realize that I may be the world’s worst birder.  I still can’t identify most of the birds I see, especially the little ones, because they all look the same to me.  I set a goal of seeing 200 types of birds this year, which should be an easy feat here in South Florida, and I may not even hit the half way point.  I haven’t yet seen an eagle or an owl, unless you count the fake owl that my coworkers put in a tree in the parking lot that completely fooled me.  I have non-birding friends telling me about seeing owls all the time and they aren’t even trying.  So I am definitely not good at birding.  But I still love it.

It is great having something to be passionate about that isn’t work.  I love getting out into nature.  I enjoy the challenge of identifying the birds I see and the quest to check new birds off the list.  I am learning quite a bit about this fascinating subject.  I am becoming a pretty good photographer.  I get to write creatively.  I think my favorite thing about birding is seeing the little treasures that a million people pass right by and never notice.

So even though I am not a great birder, I am definitely going to miss it during these next few weeks and I can’t wait to get out there again.  Luckily, I had the opportunity to get a few sessions in just before the injury — in fact I birded a new spot the morning of the day it happened — so I will be able to post some photos and stories while I am on the shelf.  Here is a shot of a molting European Starling taken at the Dump Marsh in Cutler Bay, FL a couple hours before my fall…er…jump.

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Getting Back Out There!

February was a busy month.  With a lot going on at my job and at home I didn’t have time to get out into nature, but this weekend I finally had a chance.  I was rewarded with two new species for my life list and three for my year list. I watched my first Snail Kite skimming over the river of sawgrass in the Chekika area of the Everglades.  Later I saw my first Painted Bunting at Castellow Hammock Park in South Miami-Dade County.  She was a beautiful yellow-green.  I also watched some White-winged doves cautiously enjoying a meal at one of the bird feeders at Castellow.  These were a first for 2011. All in all it was a rather light birding day.  I noticed that Lake Chekika was a lot dryer than it was during my previous visits, and am wondering if the South Florida birding season is  beginning to wind down.  Nevertheless I saw some new birds and was able to get some shots of species I hadn’t been able to photograph in the past.

European Starling peeking out from the birdhouse he has claimed for himself.

White-winged Dove perched on a bird feeder eying me cautiously.  Notice the bright blue eye-ring.

Belted Kingfisher – one of my favorites.  I finally got one to sit still enough for a photo.

Female Painted Bunting with seed.