Denizens of the saltmarshes

I managed a late spurt in my Hudson County Not-So-Big-Year this weekend, adding some laggards which I should really have had by now; American wigeon, Carolina wren, field and savannah sparrows, and ovenbird! (the latter isn't as easy as you'd expect in Hudson, which is very strange as a few hundred yards over the river, NYC is dripping with fall ovenbirds in almost every available inch of habitat). The same goes for thrashers, which seemed to have forsaken Hudson for Manhattan this fall.

Hitting Ocean Terminal for my second attempt at Nelson's sparrow (walking the sea wall netted me constant false alarms as swamps sparrows constantly popped up in response to pishing), I bumped into a birder from Nyack, NY and we finally got on at least 4 saltmarsh sharp-tails, which were swaying on the seed-heads of the spartina grasses.

But after nearly two hours, still no Nelsons.

With the wind picking up, I gave up and was driving out when I passed Mike Britt sitting on the sea wall, so I stopped to say hi. He was trying to conjure up a Eurasian wigeon, and after he left i thought I'd grab once last quick scan of the marsh. A few seconds later, movement! Two sharp-tails were methodically working the edge of the spartina, staying a foot or so inside the edge. After some cat and mouse and fleeting glimpses, both birds ventured close enough to the edge for great views. Finally, two Nelsons.

I'd go out on a limb to say they were both alterus interior birds, bad cellphone pics notwithstanding.


The Wasteland

Maybe it was growing up in overpopulated England, but I've always been drawn to neglected wastelands. Forgotten corners where nature has fought back.

A block from my apartment on the Hudson River is just such a spot. Barely two acres in size, it consists of old pier pilings, industrial waste and the detritus of river reclamation; the kind of place that probably looks exactly the same now as it did before being battered by hurricance Sandy.
And judging by the maturity of some of the trees and shrubs, the area hasn't been touched since clippers docked on the piers and unloaded tea from India.

I've birded casually from the roadside without vaulting the locked perimeter fence; good enough for phoebes and song sparrows in the spring, and even an Iceland gull this winter, but until now I'd never actually gotten inside.

Today, I found the gate unchained. And having just been talking with Ben Cacace about Manhattan's under-birded "microparks" I thought why not sneak in and have a proper look.

Being overlooked by hundreds of apartment windows, there's really no point trying to conceal yourself. So i just sauntered in, binoculars conspicuously dangling should the anti-terror police turn up and demand an excuse.

Inside it's a wonderland.

Swamp sparrows foraged in the pilings, two phoebes hunted from the boulders and metal-waste on the beach, a tennessee warbler vied for insects with a palm warbler and the ubiquitous yellowthroats.

A kingfisher protested my human intrusion. I suspect this bird isn't even a migrant, and has simply fished undetected right here, within full view of the Manhattan skyscrapers.

The next day I sneaked in again while waiting for the NYC ferry commute. A lincoln's sparrow greeted me. I reckon any day you see a Lincoln's is a good day, so seeing one a block from my apartment was pretty cool. A minute later the ringbills rose in unison from their loafing pier and I saw our resident peregrine cut across the sun. Then, just as i was leaving, I stumbled upon a late female scarlet tanager sitting quietly in a rowan tree.

I wonder how long it will be before someone realises the gate is unchained....

POSTSCRIPT: A few hours later I had another lincoln's in the small gardens behind my office in Midtown. Must have been a big flight last night.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Went back today, 12th Oct, and its locked again. Just when the front will be pulling in new arrivals. It was good while it lasted (3 days...)


Torrent ducks

What's your desert island bird?

I think this may be mine. 

I found this family group (and later their ducklings) navigating the tumbling glacial waters of a mountain stream in the southern Patagonian Andes. 

As a whole, we don't think of ducks as exhibiting much ecological diversity, but once you've seen torrent ducks hunting in water you can't even stay afloat in, let alone swim or stand up in, you'll never look at a mallard the same way....

My photo
I work in NYC and own a wildlife and wilderness agency specializing in the southern cone of South America. I still do some guiding down there, especially looking for Fuegian and Patagonian avifauna. I'm particularly interested in the wintering ecology of neotropical migrants, and in avian biogeography in general. You can follow me at - @domhall And find me at - AventuraArgentina.com