UFC Comes to New York

Lost among all the usless things our impotent Governor and Legislators did this past year, they made it legal for mixed martial arts fights in New York State.  Little did we know, we would get a first hand look at this brutal sport at Jamaica Bay of all places.  Below are the higlights from the Yellowlegs Division.

The fighters enter the Octagon of death! (Octagon not included)

You talking to me?

Chant it with me, Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!


Going for the Kill...


In a judges ruling... we have a winner!


A Jamaica Bay Dragon(fly)

Birds weren’t the only interesting things on our most recent visit to Jamaica Bay with Corey of 10,000 Birds.  Danika took these shots of a gorgeous Dragonfly I’ve yet to ID (mostly I’ve been busy and haven’t dug out the field guide yet).  If you can give some hints, I would appreciate it!

Dragonfly at Jamaica Bay East Pond


Albany Pine Bush

*Note this post will be permanently linked in the Where to Bird in Eastern New York and Handicapped Birding Pages.

The Albany Pine Bush is a series of Pine Dunes (part of a larger group of Pine Bush which runs down the Coast into New Jersey), nestled along an extension of the City of Albany and parts of the Towns of Guilderland and Colonie.  It is also conveniently located next to the Albany dump.  While many species of animal call the Preserve home, the Albany Pine Bush is most famous for a small, blue butterfly, The Karner Blue, which is endangered.  This was also once the historical home of Heath Hen, a now extinct sub-species of Lesser Prairie Chicken, which occurred in the Northeast.

A good place to start your visit to the Albany Pine Bush is at the Discovery Center (located off Rt. 155, between Rt. 5 and Washington Avenues).  Here you can learn more about the uniqueness of the Pine Bush as well as get maps and directions to other parcel of lands. (Keep in mind they do controlled burning in some years and access to the trails may be limited).  The easiest way to start exploring the Pine Bush is to follow the trails from the Discovery Center.  These trails go through typical Pine Bush habitat.  Within moments in the warmer months you should be greeted with the “Chewink” call of Eastern Towhee, which is abundant in the Pine Bush.  Prairie Warbler is common here, along with Field SparrowFlycatchers are also abundant, with Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Willow, Least and Great Crested FlycatchersEastern Pewee may be heard in some of the woodier sections.  Common Yellothroat, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler and American Redstart are the common warbler species, with others such as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted and Cape May Warblers are found in the dense pines in migration.  Red-breasted Nuthatch and Northern Flicker are often found as well.  Wild Turkey is abundant, along with Gray Catbird and Indigo Bunting.  In winter, Northern Shrike frequents the area.

As one follows the trails east, the preserve runs along the Albany dump.  In summer months the smell can be wretched, but expect good looks at Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture is a recent arrival but can often be found here as well.  All 3 of the main gull species can be found wheeling above the garbage and a gull enthusiast might be able to pick out a white-winged or better gull from the swirling flocks.

In late summer Common Nighthawk can be abundant flying over or even found quietly snoozing on a branch.  Recent survey’s have shown Whip-poor-will to be present in the park, a welcomed sign.  Red-tailed Hawk is a common resident and both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are often found.  Merlin can be found in migration.  Barred, Screech and Great Horned Owls frequent the surrounding woods, and with more effort or searching in winter Northern Saw-Whet and Long Eared Owls are a good bet.  In winter also keep your eyes our for both Red and White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll.

Other areas of the preserve have a variety of habitat, ranging from mixed woodlands, ponds and marsh areas.  Rensselaer Lake off Fuller Road is part of the preserve, but is often crowded and has an unsavory reputation for use.  Some further exploration of the area, might lead to some new finds, especially during migration.

Beyond birds, the preserve has an amazing array of unique plants, insects and mammals as well.  The preserve can be busy with mountain bikers and joggers in the warmer months and cross-country skiers in winter, making visiting the preserve early in the day your best bet.

(The Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center is an excellent stop for someone with disabilities.  As a former bank, the building is handicapped accessable and has plenty of restrooms.  It also provides an opportunity to for those with disabilities to experience the Pine Bush, through displays and other information.  However birding the Pine Bush with someone who is disabled is poor at best.  The trails are sandy and uneven, prone to washouts in heavy rain and stairs are used throughout the trail system.  A wheelchair is impossible here and others with mobility problems, may find the sandy trails, which can be steep a challenge.  The preserve is also surrounded by major roads, including the New York State Thruway, there is significant noise pollution, even someone with slight hearing loss may have issues trying to hear birds in the preserve due to traffic.  The good news is there are areas in which you can’t hear the traffic as much, but in other areas, especially late in the afternoon it can be deafening.)


****Spring, * Summer, ** Fall, * Winter

The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State

If you have not heard enough about this book or gotten a copy yet, you owe it to yourself to get it, even if you don’t live in New York State.

All of the New York’s 250 or so breeding birds are discussed in detail as well as  a detailed comparisons to the last Breeding Bird Atlas.

The artwork in the book in phenomenal, but at over 600 pages, this is not a pocket sized field guide.  Many of the original prints are currently on display in a small exhibit at the New York State Museum.

Also I will be more than willing to autograph any of your copies (my name appears on page XX, last name on the right hand column), free of charge.  I’ll even throw in a picture of myself at no extra charge, so you can try and figure out who I am.

Cooper’s Hawk

This morning as I was chipping out my car from yet another Ice event this winter season, a large, beautiful (and what looked to be well fed) female Cooper’s Hawk streaked through the yard, a posse of noisy American Crows in hot pursuit.

For hundreds of years an event like this has been done on a daily basis, so what makes it unusual? 

I live in an urban area.

Twenty years ago, many ornithologists and researchers were worried about the Cooper’s Hawk.  This species like many raptors was seriously threatened by DDT, but Cooper’s Hawk also seemed to flee in the face of human development.  Many believed the Cooper’s Hawk was facing serious problems and many states including New York listed the Cooper’s Hawk, on their watch or threatened lists.  Then something remarkable happened.

They changed.

Whether it was due to higher breeding success or they discovered that cities can provide a stable and plentiful food source, Cooper’s Hawk no long fled human development, but to some extent embraced it.  For example on the 1980-1985 NYS Breeding Bird Atlas, Cooper’s Hawk was widespread breeder across the state, but uncommon.  It was nearly completely absent from the lower Hudson Valley, Staten Island, New York City and Long Island.  On the 2000-2005 Atlas, not only are they more widespread state wide, but there were several nesting in New York City, Staten Island  and much of Long Island now has them year round.  In my opinion if these birds can survive in one of the most urban areas in the world, then I have every reason to suspect this species will thrive and only perhaps become more common in the next few years.

But while we bask in this success story, there are dark clouds ahead.  Rock Pigeon, European Starling and House Sparrow numbers have all shown at least some significant statistical decreases in population.  The reasons for these decreases is unclear, perhaps these birds whose populations exploded 100 years ago are simply coming down from peak numbers, to a more sustainable population.  Other scientists are concerned that environmental factors, such as chemicals and other poisons are to blame.  More research has to be done, but since these species represent the main sources of food for urban Cooper’s Hawks (in addition to rodents) decreases in the amount of prey will retard any gains made by these hawks.  And while there are still many Starlings, House Sparrows and Pigeons around, they are important indicators for the health of the cities we humans live in as well.  If our cities are unhealthy for them, it can’t be good for us.

Christmas Quiz:

Q:  Which Species of Accipiter (Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk and Northern Goshawk) is Endemic to North America?

Place your answer in the comment section, and I’ll post the answer on Friday!

Desired Life Bird Meme

Yeah, yeah I’m late to the party, but I got the idea from the gang over at 10,000 Birds and Nate at The Drinking Bird.  Really this turned out to be far more difficult that I thought it would be.  But here we go.

1.  Boreal Owl:  I have seen every Owl east of the Mississippi River except for Burrowing and Boreal Owl.  Of the two, I would like to see Boreal the most.  This slightly larger cousin of the Northern Saw-Whet Owl, spends most of the time in the vast (but shrinking) boreal forests of Canada, and only a few unlucky individuals make it as far south as New York in winter.  They may be more common in the Adirondacks in winter, but 98% of the habitat is inaccessible during this time of year.  Of course like most rare owls, you never know when or where they will show up, the last Boreal Owl I know of was actually in Central Park in New York City!  But I didn’t see it.

2.  Harlequin Duck:  This duck at least winters closer to me, from Long Island to Maine, but I so infrequently visit the coast, especially in winter that it is a bird that has eluded me.  A better effort by me and I’m sure to get it!

3.  Western Tanager:  Another ‘common’ vagrant to New York.  They periodically show up and I miss them.  I guess I could solve the situation by going out west, but that isn’t possible at the moment.

4.  Spruce Grouse:  With an estimated population of perhaps only 300 birds in New York State, this is one of the most sought after breeding birds in the State.  I once traveled north to a remote private bog in search of these birds, with Corey Finger, Tom Williams and Jory Langner.  We didn’t find them, but others have.  So maybe next year?  If not I got to plan a Trip to Algonquin Park in Canada or the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

5.  Elegant Trogon:  If I could find one of these guys in New York, I would win “Birder of the Year” (if such an award existed).  When I do finally get to see one, I bet it will be in the same tree as a Western Tanager!

2007 Birding Year in Review

For anyone who cares, I finished 2007 with 251 species in New York State, throw in a few species I picked up while on vacation in Disney World in Florida and that number only goes up to 255.  Certainly this is well short of Corey’s big year of 316 or Rich Guthrie  at 317, but I’m not retired nor do I have a girlfriend in law school who happens to live only a short drive from Jamaica Bay.  I also have 2 young kids, which as Mike at 10,000 Birds understands is a challenge to give enough time, effort and energy to both loves.

There were of course a lot of great moments, I’ll have to admit I spent a lot of with Corey of 10,000 Birds.  In February we had two great trips one was north to Oregon Plains Road where we might have had the best success of anyone, with stunning looks at Red and White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch and a nice and very cooperative group of Gray Jays.  Another trek that same month was on Presidents day to Jones Beach to seek a bird, which I shall not name here.  It was cold, cold and cold.  It was also the first time I got to meet Mike from 10,000 Birds  (noticing a theme here).

There was also the Short-Eared Owl spectacular in Ft. Edward, which I saw with both Corey and my Wife.  By late March, Corey and I were standing in a snow covered field listening for American Woodcock, which did not sound but we found many tracks in the snow.  We also got to hear hooting Great-Horned Owls, a new property bird for that location.

March was also a fabled trip to Lake Champlain to look for Tufted Duck and the first time I met Jory.  We saw nearly every kind of duck that day including Barrow’s Goldeneye and Eurasian Wigeon, but no Tufted Duck.

April the great excitement builds for migration and we made lots of little local trips.

In May I headed down the NYC over mothers day to participate in the New York City Audubon Birding Challenge, where once again the team from Staten Island that I was one narrowly edged out the team from Brooklyn for the victory.  A week later I joined Corey, Chad Witko and my wife to do the HMBC Century Run, where despite miserable conditions we finished with over 120 species in 24 hours.

In June, 4 bird bloggers (Corey and Mike from 10,000 Birds, Patrick from The Hawk Owls Nest and myself) traveled over hill and dale in search of field birds such as Henlow’s Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper and the next day climbing a mountain in the dark to listen to the surreal song of the Bicknell’s Thrush (and we also got Mike his life Ruffed Grouse).

July had yet another trip up north with Tom W., Jory and Corey to search for Spruce Grouse, in one of the most remote and dramatic places I had ever visited in the Adirondacks, the trip was a bust on our target species, but no trip to the Adirondacks is ever a bust.

August is time for shorebirdsand other than a quick trip to Montezuma NWR in Central New York to get Sandhill Cranes (and missing a Whimbrelbecause we were lazy), we spent a lot of time at the Cohoes Flats and Peebles Island.  Corey had his mystery shorebird, that even David Sibley commented on, but a lot of the sightings would not have been possible without Zach B., who spent a lot of time looking through every shorebird in Cohoes, and eventually would turn up a pair of American Golden Plovers a rather uncommon bird in these parts.  I also was one of two people to snag a briefly stopping Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Albany County (Thanks Rich and Corey!)

September Corey and I did the first ever fall Century Run with the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club.  We were one of only two groups that participated (it was labor day weekend) but we ended with around 90 species.

October Corey went to Germany and I hung around the house.  November rolled in with winter finches and waxwings and it wasn’t long before Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Northern Shrike and Bohemian Waxwingwere all added to my year list.  A late trip to Noblewood on the shores of Lake Champlain also got us a late Dunlin and a Little Gull (Hey Corey, we saw a Little Gull!)

December was spent doing Christmas counts, in Saratoga, Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia Counties and while I only added one new species (Snow Goose which I had somehow managed to miss up till then), but there is nothing I like better than spending the day counting birds.

What’s in store for 2008?  Well who knows, as of this writing I’m 10 days in to the year and haven’t gone birding once.  Too tired, a little stressed and generally distracted.  I will however I have the opportunity to be on the Gulf coast the first week in April, so hopefully I’ll get something good out of that!