Friday, November 25, 2016

Bird Friday

This morning, I joined a bird watching expedition through Buckhorn Island State Park in Grand Island, New York. It was a cloudy, but not excessively cold, November day and was a good day for the bird watching experience. Since I'm not a big fan of battling crowds at the mall in the shopping frenzy called "Black Friday," I thought that I would enjoy "Bird Friday" instead.

The activity was led by naturalist Tom Kerr (pictured above) of the Audubon Society. Approximately ten bird watchers joined him. We ranged from total novice (me) to very experienced bird watchers. Tom Kerr used his phone to keep track of the species of birds that we saw. There is an app called ebird. It is available for both Android and iphones. It is connected to a website, called "ebird.org."

We walked six miles in the park and, during that time, spotted 36 different taxa (a taxonomic category, such as phylum, order, family, or species). The walk took 218 minutes (3.18 hours).

At this location (around the grassy island in the Niagara River), we saw a whole bunch of ducks in a group. We saw both mallards and greater scaup. The greater scaup is a mid-sized diving duck. We looked through our own binoculars and through a large binocular-type device that stood on a tripod. Tom brought that wonderful device. At about the same time, we saw a boat that was sitting very still near the group of ducks. And then... BANG!!! After hearing the shooting by the duck hunters, we observed that the group of ducks that we first observed never moved. Those ducks never moved because they were not real. They were decoys!

Apparently, the decoys were very realistic because all of the bird watchers, from the novices to the bird watching leader, were tricked. We all laughed about being tricked by the fake birds. We moved on and, before long, we saw some real ducks that swam and dove and did stuff that living ducks do. In addition to the mallards and the greater scaup, we saw bufflehead. These are small ducks with a dark head, a rounded bill, and a very striking black and white body. 


This is the marsh, where we actually did not see a large number of birds.



This is the bridge that connects Grand Island to Niagara Falls. There is no duck hunting permitted past this point. That is because, when people are driving over the bridge, the sound of guns going off at close proximity is a little bit too startling. At the bridge, we saw a red-tailed hawk and a peregrine falcon.

Tom pointed out a box that had been placed on the (nondriving portion) bridge. It is meant for peregrine falcons. They use the box for nesting. According to Tom, "If work is being done on the bridge during the times of year that the box is empty, the entire box can be removed." Once the work is done, the box is returned to its original spot so that the peregrine falcons find it upon their return. There was a time when peregrine falcons had become an endangered species. That was in the mid-20th century. They have come back and were removed from the endangered species list, when DDT was banned and the use of other chemical pesticides was limited. Other places that these raptors like to nest include tall buildings in busy cities.


We continued walking toward the peninsula that links the mainland with Buckhorn Island. We passed a patch of alders. One of the Bird Walkers, Patricia, told me that these trees are Siberian alders, which is an invasive species. It is a fast-growing tree that readily grows along the river.

We looked across the river at Navy Island, which is Canadian territory. Tom had set up the Super Binocular and we took turns looking at Navy Island through it. In one tree, we saw two bald eagles perched. We saw them clearly through this super binocular. It was a truly amazing sight. Bald eagles are now growing in population, but, in the mid-20th century, they were, like the peregrine falcon, an endangered species. Causes of their coming close to extinction included habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and contamination of its food source, largely as a result of DDT. Fortunately, DDT has been banned. The bald eagle has sometimes been considered the largest true raptor in North America.




Eventually, the wind kicked up and it started feeling more like November. Nevertheless, it was a good day to see birds. Here is the list of birds that we saw this morning at Buckhorn Island State Park, as reported by Tom Kerr on ebird:
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard,Northern Pintail, Bufflehead Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot , Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Peregrine Falcon, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- With a mixed flock of Chickadee and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Red crown obvious on one of them, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and American Goldfinch.

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