Category Archives: NY

June in the Daks, part 2

Daks: Paul Smith VC Lake

daksThe Adirondacks is more than birds. It’s also dragonflies and butterflies. I was very excited to see some “life” leps and odes (my terms for Lepidoptera and Odonata) on my NJ Audubon trip to the Daks. The first odonate we saw were Ebony Jewelwings, Calopteryx maculata,flying in the shady areas of a little bridge in Bloomingdale Bog. Not a life damselfly for me (they are fairly common in New Jersey, just look in your nearest drain ditch!), but this beautiful damselfly was a lifer for many people in our group. This isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken of Ebony Jewelwing, but it gives you an idea how lovely it is.

Daks: Four-spotted Skimmer

I spotted this Four-spotted Skimmer, Libellula quadrimaculata, on the second day of the trip. We had stopped on the road in  search of American Bittern, and, as is my wont, I wandered from the group and found several interesting odes by a brook. This wasn’t the first time I spotted Four-spotted Skimmer (or Four-spotted Chaser, as it’s known in Europe) during the weekend, but it was definitely the most cooperative, perching in front of a blue background and allowing a sliver view of its face. Another dragonfly I spotted here was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface shown below. Just goes to show what you can find on a random stop by the road!

Daks: Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted CorporalLadona julia, was the most common dragonfly we saw, especially around Paul Smith’s College Visitor’s Interpretive Center. (That’s the lake in back of the VIC above.)   They tend to inhabit acidic lakes and marshes and beaver ponds. Are beaver ponds acidic? I guess so.

There are several whiteface dragonfly species in the Adirondacks, genus Leucorrhinia. These are small black dragonflies with bright white faces and yellow or red markings, found in northern states and Canada. This can be a tricky id, so I double checked all these photographs with the dragonfly experts at the Facebook Northeast Dragonflies page. (Once again,  Thank you, Ed Lam!)

Daks: Crimson-ringed WhitefaceCrimson-ringed Whiteface, Leucorrhinia glacialis.

Daks: Hudsonian Whiteface female Hudsonian Whiteface, Leucorrhinia hudsonica.

Daks: Frosted Whiteface, female Frosted Whiteface, female, Leucorrhinia frigida.

Dragonflies are predators. Beautiful predators. Fred, a member of our group, pointed out this dragonfly to me Saturday afternoon, on the trail of Bloomingdale Bog south. I’m not sure what this Dusky Clubtail, Gomphus spicatusis eating. Some kind of beetle? He was enjoying it so much, I think I could have picked him up and he still would have been chomp-a-chomp.

daks.duskyclubtailclosefup

Daks: Dusky Clubtail 1
Daks: Dusky Clubtail 2

This is Lancet Clubtail, Gomphus exilis, the distinguishing detail being the pale tip. Most of the clubtails I see anywhere have slender clubs. For once, I would like to see something like Skillet Clubtail, you know, a dragonfly with one BIG fat club.
Lancet Clubtail

Still waiting on the definite word of this dragonfly. I’m guessing Beaverpond Baskettail, but feel an urge to just label it Ol’ Google-eyes….Oh wait! Breaking news! This is a Racket-tailed EmeraldDorocordulia libera! Just got confirmation from three experts on FB Northeast Odonata, including Ed! I thought is was a baskettail because of the yellow spots on the abdomen, but the consensus is that the spots are a reflection. “Emeralds are shiny,” to quote one of my experts. I am a very happy dragonfly-lover right now, because Racket-tail Emerald was on my list of odes I wanted to see before I die.

daks.emerald2
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Daks: Canadian Tiger SwallowtailI know, I know, where are the butterflies? We didn’t see as many as I expected, and I don’t know if that is how the Adirondacks is at mid-June or if it is part of the scarcity of butterflies I had been observing in New Jersey and New York. We did see many Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, Papilio canadensis. Just like Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, but smaller. A  life butterfly for me. I think the flower is Blue Flag Iris, a wildflower that grows in Heron Marsh, behind the Paul Smith’s College VIC, where this photo was taken.

And, another lifer, Arctic SkipperCarterocephalus palaemon.  I saw several in Bloomingdale Bog, which made me almost as happy as viewing the Black-backed Woodpecker. Arctic Skippers are small, 29-32 mm, which is an inch and a smidge.
Daks: Arctic Skipper

Northern CrescentPhyciodes cocyta, was not a life butterfly, but it was only the second time I’ve seen one. A cousin of the Pearl Crescent seen everywhere in New Jersey fields. It feeds on asters, so I’m not sure what it was doing here.
Daks: Northern Crescent

And, here is a non-bird surprise that was one of the favorites of the group, a female Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, laying eggs. We saw mama Snapper on Sunday, a rainy cloudy day. I am not a Snapping Turtle fan (once you’ve seen one pull a Wood Duck to its sad death, it’s hard to root for them), but I have a lot of respect for moms who don’t let anything, including the weather, stop them from doing their generational duty.
Daks: Snapping Turtle Laying Eggs in the Rain

The biodiversity that makes up the Adirondack bogs and forests is limited. This is not an environment where a wide variety of creatures can live. But, as I said in Part One. the birds, dragonflies, butterflies, plants, trees, and, yes, even the snapping turtles that live there are wonderful and unique. I am so happy New Jersey Audubon offers this trip every June. Scott Barnes and Linda Mack are fun, knowledgable leaders, and the rest of the group, who ran the gamut from very experienced to novice birders, were great company.  So, next June, get thee to the Adirondacks! Black flies possible, but not probable.

Daks: Purple

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June in the Daks, part 1

Daks: Bloomingdale Bog
It was time to go back to the Adirondacks. I had a yearning to see bogs and wildflowers, boreal birds and unusual dragonflies. So, I joined Scott Barnes, Linda Mack, and a very interesting group of people on New Jersey Audubon’s annual Adirondacks van trip in mid-June. I was looking forward to this trip for several reasons:
– The itinerary involved areas of the Daks I had never been to before;
– It was a VAN trip, which meant I did not have to drive;
– During the years (all too few years) I was a volunteer at the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory, I had signed people up for this trip with a great deal of envy since my schedule always conflicted, usually with a work thing;
– I had heard fun stories about the trip from my friend Laura, Somewhere in New Jersey.  The stories usually involved black flies, lots of black flies, but I figured that if Laura was covered with  biting bugs and still had a good time, then this must be one hell of a trip.

Daks: Bog!
We zipped up north to the Saranac Lake, Franklin County area on a Friday and headed immediately for Bloomingdale Bog. Boreal bogs are the cornerstone of Adirondack birding, nutrient-poor wetlands that accumulate acidic peat, a deposit of dead plant material. Because of the lack of nutrients, the number of plants and creatures that grow in boreal bogs is limited, but those that do are very special, living things that can live in harsh conditions and often no place else. Places like Bloomingdale Bog take hundreds of years to form, and are too easily destroyed. So, I was happy to be in this special place.

Daks: Scott Proceeds with Caution

We walked down Bigelow Road, a dirt road at the northern end of the bog. (I’m a bit confused about the relationship between Bloomingdale Bog and Bigelow Road. They seem to be the same but separate places.) And walked. And walked. It was late afternoon and not very birdy. But, there seemed to be a purpose to our walk, and finally Scott told us that he had been told about a Black-backed Woodpecker nest in the area. Right past the big puddle. Oh. Since Scott had gotten these directions a week ago, there was much discussion about whether the puddle would still be there, and what constituted a big puddle. But, soon the well-eared amongst us (not me!) heard the sound of young woodpeckers, and there was a Black-backed Woodpecker feeding young at a fairly large hole in a tree near the road.

Daks: Blackbacked Woodpecker
I was lucky, I got a good look before the bird flew away.  But not everybody did, the greenery blocked a straight-on view for many in the group. So we waited, and soon the mama woodpecker was flying in. We couldn’t see the baby birds, deep in the nest hole, but we could certainly hear them chittering away in joy as mama arrived. And, a few feet down the road we found an excellent viewing site where somebody had clipped the greenery down to eye level. Aha! A much better marker than a puddle (which actually was still there). And, everybody got to see these beautiful, striking woodpeckers. Life bird for some, a good bird for all. An excellent start to the weekend!

daks.grayjay2

On the way back, we encountered our second boreal species, Gray Jay! These birds are irresistible–gregarious, curious, and totally adorable looking. An interesting change from the imposing Blue Jays I’m used to. I had first seen Gray Jays out in Colorado, where we would throw them chips and then try to photograph them as they ate the chips and flew away. These jays were no different. When we encountered them again the next day, Cathy volunteered to share her peanuts with the jays, and she quickly became the most popular birder in the bog!

Daks: Cathy and the Gray Jay

It wasn’t always easy to photograph the Gray Jays, they moved very quickly to and from Cathy’s hand, flying to the top of a tall spruce when the peanuts ran out. But, they were a lot closer than many of the other boreal species we saw that weekend. Yellow-belled, Least, and Alder Flycatchers and Lincoln’s Sparrow were all seen best through the scope.

Daks: Typical Flycatcher View in the Adirondacks

Daks: Birding in the RainI was extremely happy that the other boreal species we saw naked-eye in your face close was Mourning Warbler, Geothlypis philadelphia. We encountered this songbird on a rainy Sunday, first on a roadside where only a few of us saw it well, and then, wonder of wonders, at the Azure Mountain trailhead. This handsome, vigorous bird was singing loudly when we got there, and just a hint of its song brought it into our sight immediately. He did not leave the area until we left, though he spent most of his time in the brush and leaves, as they are wont to do. This was definitely my favorite bird of the trip.

Daks: Mourning Warbler Rules

Daks: PinkThere are many natural wonders to enjoy in the Adirondacks in addition to birds. I am clueless when it comes to the striking plant life, so I’m going to quote from the excellent Paul Smith’s College Visitor’s Interpretive Center web page:  “This habitat is a nutrient-poor, acidic wetland dominated by sphagnum mosses, sedges, and shrubs and evergreen trees rooted in deep peat. The two main trees found on Barnum Bog are Black Spruce and Tamarack. Tamaracks, which are also known as the Eastern Larch or American Larch, are coniferous (cone-bearing) trees which behave like a deciduous tree; the needles of the Tamarack turn a golden yellow in fall and drop to the ground, appearing again in the spring. Tamaracks thrive in the acidic environment of bogs.”  The photo on the left is a Tamarack, Larix laricina, close-up. Yes! Those are cones, in this case young female cones. The male cones are yellow. 

Daks: White
The flowers are pretty too. 

Daks.A Little History

I’m going to write about the dragonflies and butterflies of the Daks, and a surprise non-bird creature, in another blog post, June in the Daks, part 2.  To end this post, here are some photos of the view from the last stop on our trip, Whiteface Mountain. I did not get the life bird view of Bicknell’s Thrush that I was hoping for, but I did hear it. (In a way I’m happy I didn’t get the bird, because that means I still have a life bird in New York State to look forward to.)  I also got an interesting lesson in attitudes towards the environment in 1929, when the building of the Whiteface Memorial Highway was first proposed. “A few spots should be left for those who enjoy the out-of-doors on foot.” Well, I tend to agree with preserving land, but I’m happy they built that road. Climbing 4,867  feet is not my idea of birding fun. The road enabled us to drive almost to the top, with the remaining  267 feet achieved through an elevator reached through a tunnel into the mountain. Even on a cloudy day, the views were a wonderful reminder of the beauty of the Daks.

Daks: Whiteface Mt. Under the Gray

Daks: Whiteface Mt. view 2Whiteface Mountain

Ten Reasons Why I Love New York City

A couple of weeks ago I brought chicken soup to a Facebook friend sick and miserable in a motel outside of Kennedy airport. Julie has tons of Facebook friends, and when she wrote about my soup delivery they showered me with thanks. It was a bit overwhelming. I was surprised that a lot of them said they would and could never live in New York City (or any city). One woman said she did get a different picture of the city from reading my blog, which made me realize that I actually don’t have a lot here about birding in the city.

So, here are some of the reasons why I love living in NYC, especially Queens. I’m drawing on photos I’ve taken over the past few years, so I can’t show Every Reason. I don’t have photos of the theater and I can’t convey the energy I feel when I walk around the East Village or people watch in Bryant Park. If you’re not from New York City, I hope you’ll see how possible it is to live here and still be very much a part of the natural world. You just may have to take the subway to get there.

1. Snow Geese Flying over Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. A few miles from JFK Airport as the goose flies.
JRWR: Snow Geese in Formation

2. Pink-footed Goose at Meadow Lake, a 12-minute walk from my home. Much better view than the one I got in Iceland.
Meadow Lake: Pink-Footed Goose

3. Snow. And Cardinals in the Snow.
Central Park: Northern Cardinal Stuffing Face

4. A Robin nesting in a traffic light. Shown to me by one of Central Park’s best nature photographers (thank you again, Cal).
Central Park: Robin & babies at red light

5. Great Horned Owlets almost every year in my neighborhood park. Alley Pond Park: GHOwlets

6. Family. Three generations (including me, the photographer) enjoying music in Central Park. Then, I force them to look at the birds.
Music in Central Park

7. Meadowhawks at Little Alley Pond, Queens. When you look at them, you can’t hear the cars whizzing by on the Parkway next door.
Alley: Meadowhawk

8. Monk Parakeets Building a Nest in Whitestone, a mile from where I grew up.
Whitestone: Monk Parakeets Enjoy Winter Berries

9. Bridges. Ways out, ways in. And, some of them are home to Peregrine Falcons. Brooklyn: Verrazano Bridge

10. Jamaica Bay sunsets. Look closely and you can see “the city” on the other side. This is my constant source of wonder, the juxtaposition of the natural against the man-made. Jamaica Bay NWR: Terrapin Trail, sunset

What? Another Snowy Owl Post?

Genoa, NY: Snowy Owl There are Snowy Owls all over the United States! Vermont, Indiana, Washington, South Dakota, even Hawaii (though that one was sadly shot ’cause it was at the airport…I know, I don’t get it either). Word came through NJBirds on November 9th that a Snowy Owl had been found by Merrill Creek Reservoir, and I finally decided I absolutely needed to see it in early December. (And, the Owl is still there as I write this up in mid-January.)

I have been a fortunate birder when it comes to Snowy Owls. I saw my Life Snowy Owl in May 2006 in Genoa, NY; it just happened to show up while I was at nearby Cornell on a work trip. That’s the sweetie’s photo above. No one knew what it was doing in upstate New York in May.

Jones Beach: Snowy Owl again!

And, then there was the winter of 2008 when all you had to do for a Snowy Owl fix was take a walk along Jones Beach. Owls here, owls there, Snowy Owls everywhere! This one was at West End 2. You wouldn’t know it, but it was surrounded by birders and photographers. There have been others, but I don’t want to spend this post gloating.

I made the trek out to Warren County on December 3rd. A birder had kindly given very specific instructions on how to locate the Snowy, which had found a new spot by the south dam, away from the water.  I had never been to Merrill Creek Reservoir before, and rejoiced in my personal discovery of a new birding spot on a beautiful sunny (and cold) afternoon.

NJ: Merrill Creek Reservoir

NJ: Merrill Creek Crow

The directions took me from an unmarked parking lot on Fox Farm Road through the woods, where a murder of crows were noisily congregating (murdering?), to an unused gravel road, around a locked gate that barely allowed my camera passage, and along the top of the south dam, pictured above.

NJ: Merrill Creek Reservoir: The View From Below

The Snowy Owl was way, way down from the dam path! I put my scope on him, got my look, and  gave the many non-birders who had heard about the owl views.  I love doing that, especially with kids. A walk down to where I could view the Snowy closer was next. The photo above gives you some idea how far down I had to go to be somewhat on the same level as the Owl, though it was still pretty far away. The smart bird had found a spot in the sun in an area separated from gawky sightseers by a ditch, rocks, and a sign saying “Do Not Enter This Area.”

NJ: Snowy Owl Takes a Peek at Her Worshippers

It was very happy, dozing, swiveling its head (usually away from us!), and preening. I was very happy just watching it.
NJ: Snowy Owl Preening

There has been a lot written about this year’s influx of Snowy Owls. Birders are saying that it is not just a lack of lemmings and other goodies in their native northern tundra. The story is that there were so many lemmings this summer that there was an explosion of young owls, and that what we are seeing are young males who have been crowded out. That doesn’t explain the all-white Snowy that has been seen regularly at Jones Beach, or this owl, which birders say is a juvenile female. It will be interesting to see how many more Snowys appear this winter. And the ornithological conclusion as to why. Personally, I find the reasoning why engaging, but the seeing is pure wonder and joy.

Coney Island Gulls Welcome Gray-hooded Gull to the ‘Hood

I was getting my hair cut when Seth re-found the Gray-hooded Gull, Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus, Saturday early afternoon.  I read the news on my iphone, sighed, and said to Diana, who had just finished washing my hair, “There’s a good bird at Coney Island.  A Gray-hooded Gull.   Usually seen in South America or Africa.”  Diana, who is young and for some reason interested in my birding activities, said, “Really?  I never see any good birds around here, just pigeons.” 

I laughed.  Because, that is the beautiful irony of birding, that magical creatures are found in the most unlikely places.  An Ash-throated Flycatcher in a vacant lot by a subway station.  A Hooded Crow in a bustling Staten Island park.  And now, the second sighting of Gray-hooded Gull in the United States, flying and foraging in the midst of that classic Brooklyn boardwalk/beach scene, Coney Island.  Not far, mileage-wise, from Forest Hills, Queens. 

Coney Island: Beach

On a sunny, beautiful, hot Saturday afternoon, it took more than a few minutes to drive to Coney Island and find parking.  I didn’t feel the anxiety I sometimes feel when I’m chasing a bird, the suspense of whether it will still be there or whether I will hear those dreaded words, “It was just here 5 minutes ago.”  The bird had been seen, the bird was seen the day before, it had been seen six days ago at noon.  That gull was not going anywhere else today.  I walked down the boardwalk, past couples dancing to a live band, past guys lounging on the rail, past families dripping water munching on French fries and tacos, to the recommended spot, between Nathan’s and the Wonder Wheel.
Coney Island: Wonder Wheel

There was a small knot of birders, recognizable by their field marks—binoculars, scopes, the fact that they were not wearing bathing suits, to the left of the bathing pavilion.  Not all looking at the same spot, which meant they did not have the bird.  One of them pointed to a flock of gulls further down.  Too far to view without a scope and I had left mine in the car, so I walked on.  I stopped to look at the Laughing Gulls flying in large circles over the beach.  And, immediately, I spotted a gull that was different. 

Coney Island: Gray-hooded Gull Aloft

The head was gray.  Not the splotchy gray of a first summer Laughing Gull, a lovely smooth gray hood distinctly delineated from the white body.  And the wings!  The upper wings were a work of art, a black-and-white pattern in decorative geometry. 

Coney Island: Gray-hooded Gull on the Wing

If I were reporting on this bird for an ornithological magazine, this is what I would write, “ The upper wings had a prominent white leading edge, the white being most extensive on the middle primaries and primary coverts.  The wing tip was mostly a large black triangle, which extended up both the leading and trailing edge. …A large white and short rectangular subterminal mirror was present on each of the two outermost primaries.”  [quoted from The Gray-hooded Gull in North America: First Documented Record, by Douglas B. McNair, North American Birds, vol. 53 (1999), issue 3] I am very bad at observing these details, so thank you, Douglas McNair. I prefer to observe the larger picture, the gull as art soaring over my head, over the Wonder Wheel, and back to the beach, with a grace that cannot be conveyed in a photograph.

I was 99% sure I had The Bird.  Looking back at the birders, I saw they were also observing it (confirmation!) as it flew out of sight. Back with the members of my tribe, engaging in the obligatory congrats and “what a great bird” comments, one of the birders kindly pointed out to me that the bird was still in the vicinity.  In fact, it was perched on a utility pole, right above my head! Which was quite fortunate, since I was so busy looking at it the first time, I had forgotten I had a camera.

Coney Island: Gray-hooded Gull !

Perched, I could observe it’s pale eye (“The orbital ring was carmine, the iris pale yellowish-white, the pupil dark” McNair), red legs, and red bill.  The first two features, as well as the uniform gray hood, were useful in distinguishing it from the Laughing Gulls , which became necessary when it flew over to perch with them on the roof of the bathing pavilion. 

Coney Island: Gull Fest

We soon had non-birders, including the local police, observing the bird with us, picking it out of the flock by finding the gull with the headlights, the two white windows that appeared when it flew overhead.

Coney Island: GHGU Underwing

For those of you not familiar with the history of how this gull was found:  the original finders, who had only been birding for a year, sent the sighting to ebird as a Black-headed Gull.  Doug, the ebird arbiter for the area, asked for a photo.  Black-headed Gull in mid-summer is noteworthy and unusual.  He looked at the photo and, I imagine, said, “That ain’t no Black-headed Gull!”  Several days had elapsed, and most of us thought the bird had moved on, but Shane, the Brooklyn bird whisperer, re-found the bird late Friday afternoon.   It then appeared that the bird would be a 3-observer wonder, as it flew off before many other birders could see it, the beach was closed for fireworks, and a thunderstorm drenched the 5-minutes too late birders.  But, no no no, it looks like this gull will be with us for a while.  Who’s to say how long?  The Gray-hooded Gull ain’t talking, just flying and foraging, just like it’s supposed to be doing.

Tornado: View from My Window


Tornado: View from My Window

Thursday night, September 16th, 2010, New York City was hit by an unusually violent and short storm.  Winds approaching 125mph ripped through Forest Hills.  I was not there for the storm, I was working in central New Jersey.  The storm there was brief and harsh, but no different than other thunder storms.  I was shocked when I received an email from a friend talking about possible birding problems because all the trees were gone.  What the hell?  Then I turned on the radio.

I wasn’t able to get back to Forest Hills till late Friday night, erev Yom Kippur.  My home neighborhood was devastated.  My apartment, in which the tornado winds made a detour, looked ransacked.  I couldn’t sleep.  Saturday I woke up early, looked out my window at the side street that connects Yellowstone Blvd. with Queens Blvd.  The street was still closed to traffic.


There is a car in there somewhere.

On the way to Jamaica Bay, I took a couple of photos through my car window:

Tornado: Saturday Morning

Originally uploaded by donna lynn