200 Bird Thursday – week 13 (quarterly report)


Great egret and even greater egret (Photo credit: Gus Keri)

Three months into my biggish birding year, I’ve seen 128 species in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. (I’ll get to Staten Island eventually, but the transportation logistics are daunting for someone without a car.) Within Brooklyn, I’ve ventured far beyond my well-trodden Prospect Park birding paths, to Coney Island (beach and creek), Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay, Plumb Beach, the Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park, Calvert Vaux Park, Highland Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Canarsie Pier, Fresh Creek Park, Spring Creek Park, the strip of green between Hendrix Creek and the Gateway shopping center, the middle parking lot off the Shore Parkway, the back of the BJ’s Wholesale Club, and other hot spots I’m surely forgetting.

I’ve learned at lot about birds, and I’ve also learned a lot about buses. Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – week 12 (spring!)

piping plover

Cute-as-a-button piping plover. (Photo credit: Peter Colen)

I missed the official “first day of spring in Prospect Park” bird walk – I was too busy running the NYC Half – but spring is definitely in the air. And so are birds – in the air, in trees, on ponds, and along the shore. This week’s list reflects that. Eight new birds (the most since week 3, when I was just getting going), two of them lifers.

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200 Bird Thursday – week 11 (harbingers of spring)

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Folk wisdom celebrates the American robin as the harbinger of spring – but folk wisdom would benefit from pulling up its window shades, venturing outdoors, and paying closer attention to its surroundings. In fact, a significant robin population hangs around the north all winter. Adaptable and omnivorous, robins do well in urban and suburban landscapes. When the ground is frozen and snow-covered (which was true for approximately 5 days in Brooklyn this winter) and they can’t slurp up worms, they flock to all those decorative trees and bushes that bloom in the spring and remain attractively fruit-covered through the winter.

Many robins do head south for the winter, and will soon be converging on lawns in a frenzy of worm-eating before continuing farther north, but their return is a gradual process, not a clear-cut event.

Still, the appeal of designating some bird as the “harbinger of spring” endures.

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200 Bird Thursday – week 10 (timberdoodles)


Woodcock are easier to flush than to spot. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

Here are some of the folk names bestowed on week 10’s Bird of the Week: mud bat, mud snipe, brush snipe, bog snipe, bogsucker, night partridge, big-eye, Labrador twister, sky dancer, pop-eyed shot dodger, woody and timberdoodle.


And here, with a hat tip to the City Birder, are some of the words used to describe a group of them: covey, cord, fall, flight, plump and rush. (“Fall” seems to be the most commonly used, although “plump” and “rush” strike me as the most evocative.) Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – week 9 (beachfront fortresses)

black-bellied plovers

Black-bellied plovers (photo credit: Gus Keri)

It’s March! Time to start thinking about spring migration, which will soon bring waves of new birds to the five boroughs. Already, crocuses and snowdrops are blooming, cedar waxwings are flocking in parks and backyards and landscaped median strips, and the voice of the blackbird is again heard in the land.

I celebrated the turning of the calendar by heading to Rockaway, Queens – more specifically, to Breezy Point on the peninsula’s far western tip. Getting to Breezy Point is not easy. Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – Week 8 (alcid beach)


The bird of the week . . . and possibly of the year. (Photo credit: Joshua Malbin)

(WARNING: this post contains explicit language.)

The family alcidae of the order charadriiformes includes puffins, murres and razorbills, along with their diminutives – auklets, murrelets and dovekies.  Birders refer to this group in our familiar, corrupted Latin, as “alcids.” Alcids are unrelated to penguins, but share some of their features: black and white coloration, disproportionately short wings (though alcids, unlike penguins, can fly), strong diving and underwater swimming abilities and, in the case of puffins, a certain clownish aspect. These are ocean-loving birds that breed in colonies on remote cliffs and winter far out to sea.  Your best shot at seeing them is to hire a boat. Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – Week 7 (frostbite and monsoons)

bush terminal birders (2)

Extreme birding (photo credit: Chris Laskowski)

After putting my quest on hold last week, I was determined to make up for lost time. So what if Saturday’s windchill hovered around zero degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, folks)!  A group bird walk to Bush Terminal Park was on the schedule, and if the leader was tough enough not to cancel it, then I was tough enough to join it.

My expectations were modest. I figured we had a good shot at a Bonaparte’s gull (since everyone who is not me has been seeing them in recent weeks). If we were lucky, we might see one of the uncommon white-winged gulls (glaucous or Iceland) that have been hanging around. Maybe we’d catch a red-necked grebe.

So when did I give up even these modest expectations? Was it when we noticed the striking absence of common ducks (scaup evidently having more sense than we did)? Was in when the snow started blowing sideways? Was it when the wind knocked down one of our scopes? Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – Week 5 (Coney Island Winter edition)

imageThe two feet of snow dropped by the Historic Blizzard of 2016 had mostly melted by last weekend. Nonetheless, you’ll find no snark here on the Brooklyn Bird Club’s decision to cancel a planned Sunday excursion to “Brooklyn’s southwest coast” (starring the back of the BJ’s Wholesale Club) because of “unsafe conditions” . . . other than to say that I managed a solo trip to Coney Island that day without incident. Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – Week 4 (blizzard edition)


Birding conditions this weekend were less than ideal.

Saturday’s blizzard pretty much precluded birding over the weekend, and a blizzard-induced food and TV coma (not to mention an aversion to ankle-deep slush and torrents of slush-melt) wiped out Monday as well. I did manage a loop of Prospect Park on Tuesday, binoculars in hand. I was hoping the winds might have blown in some new birds, and that the snow might have pushed them to the Breeze Hill feeders, but no such luck. It was the same familiar crowd of downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice and goldfinches. Continue reading

200 Bird Thursday – Week 3


If you were a horned lark, you’d look at this scene and sigh at its beauty.

From now until the beginning of spring migration, this is how it will be: new birds added in dribs and drabs (and then just in dribs), a measly return on hours invested tromping through cold and desolate landscapes.

But, you know, it’s at least as fun (and far less painful) than marathon training. And just as long training runs became a way to explore my new city, this year’s bird quest is taking me to parts of Brooklyn I’d barely heard of, much less set foot in, before. (On a related note, look for a new food series on the cuisines of Avenue U to start soon.) Continue reading