Thursday, December 29, 2011


Common in the south, Dickcissel is very much a rarity in the north east and can usually be found hanging out with House Sparrows, with whom they are superficially related. This individual was hanging out with a large flock of House Sparrows - 30 or so, at the edge of ball fields at Inwood Hill Park. It was a very skittish flock - perhaps the fence line they were at is a favorite hunting spot for Accipiters, because they rarely spent more than 30 seconds on the ground feeding at any one time.

This bird is a first winter male, aged by the narrow dark streaking on the breast (immature), tapered primaries that don't show in this photo (immature) and the quite extensive yellow on the breast (male). Immatures tend to be the ones to wander - adults much less frequently.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rufous Hummingbird in NYC

Every few years a Rufous Hummingbird turns up in/around NYC, and this year is one of them. There have been a lot of Rufous in the general region this late fall, and this is certainly an unusually late one.

It was feeding on a remaining patch of flowers outside the American Museum of Natural History Planetarium entrance on the north side of the building with no direct sun. There's no flash used in this image - this is actually from sunlight reflected off a nearby building on the north side of W81st Street. It's an immature female - various tail-spread shots (see the one I added below) are pretty definitive for both age and species and allow separation from the very similar Allen's Hummingbird (yet to be placed on the NY State bird list despite a Central Park example of Allen's in 2002).

Sadly the prospects for this bird are not good - it's lacking in energy and often clings to plants while feeding. It's doubtful it has the ability to migrate south far enough to find more flowering plants, so this will likely be its final stop. Proving me at least partially wrong, it's a tough bird in a mild winter, and it's still there as of Feb 7th 2012, apparently currently in retrix molt.

Unusual Ruddy Turnstone

In the lower image the typical appearance of winter-plumaged Ruddy Turnstone is in the lower left-hand corner. A Purple Sandpiper is in the middle, and this rather atypical Ruddy is at the top right. The top image shows what it looks when it's walking around feeding - demonstrably a Ruddy Turnstone but with no paler rufous fringing and a very extensive breast mark. Although Ruddy Turnstone and Black Turnstone overlap in breeding range in Alaska there's actually nothing in this bird to indicate a Black Turnstone hybrid - it's just a very dark Ruddy and one that really stuck out from all the other 40+ Ruddies that were roosting on the side of Barnegat Inlet jetty. I've considered melanism (or some other color defect) as a possible explanation - it's interesting that at least in the "group" photo the legs are noticeably a darker shade than the other Turnstone.