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Northern Saw-whet Owl In A Snow Squall

I've avoided photographing a specific Northern Saw-when Owl for over a month because I've felt I had to be too close to the owl to photograph it without disturbing it.  On Wednesday, during a brief but at times intense snow squall, the bird was on a new branch and could be photographed from a safe distance.  The owl was wide awake after being bounced around rather intensely by high winds.  The tree was pushed eight feet by the winds at one point.

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Pocket Parks

New York City has lots of smaller parks.  The smallest are called Pocket Parks and are small areas next to large buildings which got a zoning variance in exchange for the park.  At any time in the year, these parks can contain an unusual bird or two.  They often have lingering birds staying over the winter.  They're always worth checking, if you are by one.  Today, I got to see a pair of Brown Thrashers in a pocket park just east of Sixth Avenue between 46th and 47th.

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Pale Male

I caught up with Pale Male while exiting the park on Saturday.  He was on a Metropolitan Museum of Art security camera on the north side of the building.  He only stayed perched long enough to get a few seconds of video.

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Odds and Ends

My visit to Central Park on Wednesday yielded some interesting birds. 

  • I photographed the leucistic (a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes) Common Grackle that has been well documented and visits the bird feeders in the Ramble daily.
  • Watched the Rusty Blackbird in The Loch in the northern end of the park.
  • Photographed a neck banded Canada Goose at The Pond, numbered Y3T4, with white letters on orange.  Looking at my photographs, I discovered it was with another banded goose, X3A9.  I've reported the band numbers, so I should hear back in a few weeks as to where these birds were banded, and possibly why.

Update:  A Facebook reader commented that I might have best used the term Piebald rather than Leucistic for the Common Grackle.  Here's an interesting link about when to use each, from The Spruce: Bird Leucism.

Update 2:  Got the banding information back.
Band Number: 1078-14416 Y3T4
Banded: 07/02/2013
Species: CANADA GOOSE
Age of Bird: WAS TOO YOUNG TO FLY WHEN BANDED IN 2013
Sex: MALE
Location: VARENNES, QUÉBEC, CANADA
Bander: JEAN RODRIGUE QC-SCF-SAUVAGINE 801-1550 D'ESTIMAUVILLE QUEBEC QC G1J 0C3

Update 3:  I got an email from Michael Castellano that he saw the neck banded geese in Prospect Park on February 3rd.

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Great Horned Owl

Tonight, as the temperature quickly dropped below freezing the Great Horned Owl held on in very high winds.  What a way to wake up!  It coughed up two pellets one after another. Otherwise it was tough night for owl watching, with the owl quickly going out of view at fly out.

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Barred Owl

Just when Owl mania seemed to be over, three species of owls were reported in Central Park today, Great Horned, Northern Saw-whet and Barred.  Only the Barred Owl was easy to photograph from a distance, so I choose to watch it.  It was calm, except when two Red-tailed Hawks and a group of Blue Jays were nearby.

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Common Loon

A Common Loon was on the Reservoir this afternoon.  It was working a wide range of the Reservoir and was difficult to photograph as it kept far from the shoreline while I was watching it.

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Mandarin Duck

New York City's most famous, escaped pet continued to do well on The Pond in Central Park.  It's fame seems to have subsided and for the most part the shoreline of The Pond has thankfully, returned to normal. 

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Great Blue Heron

This afternoon I watched a Great Blue Heron walk on the ice of both The Pool and the Harlem Meer at the northern end of Central Park.  Just like humans, the bird occasionally slipped on the ice.  A few Great Blue Herons spend the winter in New York City.  If I could fly, I would certainly fly to a warmer climate!

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Peregrine Falcons Hunt

On Tuesday afternoon, I got to see the Peregrine Falcon pair perched in their regular spot near the No. 28/Gothic Bridge.  The female hunted and caught a pigeon mid-air in under a minute.  Peregrine Falcons are deadly hunters!  The pigeon took much longer to eat, around 25 minutes.

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Great Horned Owl

Tonight was a standard fly out for Central Park's Great Horned Owl.  It was quiet, went to three nearby trees and then was off into the dark. 

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Great Horned Owl Vocalizes

Tonight, a very respectful small group of owl watchers got to watch the Great Horned Owl cough up a pellet, stretch, fly out, and then perch in an open tree near its roost.  The normally quiet owl made a number of calls, which I learned from an other owl watcher, that it had done the night before.  There was a response from what we thought was a person making an owl call, but then we heard a more realistic call coming from the northwest.  I think we decided that it could have been wishful thinking, but it would be great if there was another owl in the park. 

The owl then flew to a different tree, and then made a wonderful dive and ended up on a low branch within the compound of the Delacorte Theater before flying up to the scaffolding over the northern gazebo being repaired at Belvedere Castle.  It then flew to a pine west of the Castle before finally flying southeast and out of view.  It was a great night of owl watching.

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Peregrine Falcons

The pair of Peregrine Falcons seem to be a regular fixture in a tree on the northwest shore of the Reservoir in Central Park on sunny afternoons.  This easy to watch perch is going to make a lot of birders and photographers very happy this winter.

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Pale Male

I haven't been doing much hawk watching the last few weeks, but ran into Pale Male near the Three Bears statue south of the Met on Friday night.  He loves to hunt there at dusk before going off to roost.  I didn't see him catch anything, but he was paying close attention to the rodents coming out for the evening.

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Great Horned Owl Solo

Tonight, I think I had the Great Horned Owl all to myself.  Tough angles to watch it, cold weather and a Monday all worked in my favor.  The winds died down before fly out.  So, the owl woke up slowly, stretched and then flew to a nearby tree.  When it flew again after a few minutes, I quickly lost it in the dark.

It was so nice to see the owl have almost no disturbances from other birds, high winds or people tonight.  (I was safely tucked far away and a fence acted as a natural blind.)

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Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl was out in the open today in Central Park.  As the temperature dropped, the winds picked up and the owl became active as the tree swayed back and forth.  The owl went to what had been the roost tree of the Barred Owl after fly out and then disappeared into the night.

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Barred Owl Vs. Great Horned Owl

Tonight ended up being a special night.  Two species of owls Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl flew out within a few hundred yards of each other within about ten minutes.

I watched the Barred Owl first.

Then, I choose to watch the Great Horned Owl, while other watched the Barred Owl fly out. 

The Great Horned Owl did its usual "Owl Yoga" before jumping up a branch, and then working its way to a higher branch.  It ended up being in a more open branch and flew out to a nearby tree.  But then it flew to a tree across a body of water, only to return to a tree near the roost tree.  It then went very low and ended up on a lawn after going after what looked to be a squirrel.  Then it was up to a small tree, and then high in a large tree.   Then it was a wide circle over water and I lost track of the Great Horned Owl.

I packed up my camera and got ready to go home after everyone else had left and something amazing happened.  The Great Horned Owl and the Barred had a little fight in the roost tree of the Barred Owl.  It was fantastic to watch them fight.  It was very much like an American Kestrel and a Red-tailed Hawk fighting.  The fight seemed to be just a territorial fight. One that wasn't intended to injure either party.  I'd love on some future night capture at least one image of the interaction.

This wonderful evening was enjoyed by about fifteen folks. I doubt any of this behavior would have been observed if there had been a large walk with a leader used a flashlight and audio playback.  No one should be allowed to interfere with an other person's desire to view natural avian behavior in a public park.

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Riverside Park Evening Grosbeak

I went up to Riverside Park today and had a very enjoyable time watching a sometimes cooperative and sometimes not so cooperative male Evening Grosbeak.  Common further upstate, this is a rare bird for Manhattan, but one I got to see a few weeks ago in Central Park.  I love watching any grosbeak eat.  They separate the food from the seeds or with grains the chafe. 

I'd also like to thank the many birders who came up to me and thanked me for bring up some of the ethical issues we're having in Manhattan.  It made me feel reassured that as a community we can minimize the impact we have on birds, and keep our generous sharing of information and images from being co-opted for the personal gain of others.  Birding is a lot of fun, and no one should get in the way of that joy.

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2019 Owls

I saw three owls in Central Park today.

My first was a Northern Saw-when Owl.  It was tucked into a pine tree and was asleep and relaxed except for two occasions.  Once when a truck went by and once when a Yellow-belled Sapsucker found the owl.  After the Sapsucker left, it didn't seem to be falling asleep, so just in case I had become the problem, I left.

My second owl was a Great Horned Owl.  It was much lower down in a tree it had been using regularly.  I could figure out how to photograph it without being right under the bird, so I choose to walk away.

My third owl was a Barred Owl.  This owl was high in a tree that a Barred Owl had used over two months ago.  I wonder if it is the same owl?  It rested most of the time, but at least three times was attacked by Blue Jays and Tufted Titmice.

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Great Horned Owl New Year's Day

Tonight, I had the good fortune to do some quiet, respectful birding by watching a Great Horned Owl wake up, preen, fly out and spend 20 minutes with the owl after fly out./p>

I was able to do this despite of Bob DeCandido and his group.  He used a flashlight on the owl while it was roosting, played owl calls and used a flashlight all across the rocks of Belvedere Castle to look for the owl.  When his group arrived at the Turtle Pond Duck Blind just as I was leaving, he made a number of jokes about playing calls from all three species of owls endlessly. At least he reads my blog! Bob's little more than a middle school bully. While his bullying doesn't bother me, I do feel concerned for the birds he taunts.

My realization at the end of the night was that despite all of his heavy handed use of flashlights and audio playback, my evening was full of great, natural observations of an owl and I doubt his group saw little more than the back of an owl's head.

Ethical birding wins every time. I highly recommend asking any bird trip leader if they subscribe to the American Birding Association Code of Ethics and decline to take a tour with them if they don't. I still can't believe that anyone pays Bob money to show them an owl, when you can do it for free and have a much more pleasurable experience.

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