Oh, how the tables have turned.

Oof! It was almost opposite day in Estabrook, at least compared to yesterday. It was sunny instead of cloudy, the wind was howling instead of calm, temps were dropping from the 20s instead of rising, and I mostly saw only the little birds that can forage close to the ground instead of owls, deers, and herons.

For example, here’s a goldfinch seeming to munch on the tiny leaf buds of this little tree or bush.

This male downy woodpecker was about 10 feet above me and about as far from the ground as I saw a bird venture.

At the north end, where the sun shines down on the riverbank, and I can walk out on the ice to get a good view, there were a slew of little birds all foraging in the same vicinity. Here’s a house finch.

Here’s a junco.

Here’s an America tree sparrow, not in a tree once again, despite its name.

And here’s another goldfinch that posed so nice, I have to show you twice.

Back at the south end, our hooded merganser hen was fishing, as usual.

And one of the goldeneye drakes was keeping his neck nice and limber just in case the opportunity to show off presents itself.

I didn’t see the kestrel today, but as I came south, I glanced up, upon hearing a gull squawking, just in time to see a mature bald eagle glide south, but not in time to get a picture. Instead, let me leave you with another picture of the great horned owl from yesterday, this time in profile to prove that it was really real and not a plastic dummy.

Yet another “great” day in Estabrook!

It was cloudy again this morning, so I didn’t expect to see much, but the clouds weren’t very thick, the temperature was pretty mild for the season, and the winds were nice and light, so I still had hope.

The show began right away with this common merganser drake at the south end who was much less shy than his kind have been lately. Man, if I were that handsome, I’d be posing for pictures all the time.

Right above the shore behind him, our belted kingfisher was already on the hunt.

Back on the water, the merganser had floated down stream leaving this goldeneye drake to keep me company.

I was finally able to make some progress north and noticed that the red-bellied woodpecker with the nesting cavity overlooking the river had company this morning, and they were hammering away on the trunk in unison. How exciting for him!

Farther north, I kept my eyes peeled for our kestrel, and found her at the top of a tree on the far shore. Here she is keeping tabs on me.

Here she is stretching out her tail after I hope she realized I was as harmless as I’ve been every other morning.

As I approached the abandoned bridge abutment, I was stunned to find some of our deer just about to start their way across the river on the ice. It was a trio, perhaps the trio we’ve seen before, and they made it across without incident by the time I got to where you see them standing below.

At the far north end, our plastic owl was still at its post, guarding the roof of the Holiday Inn, so I’m pretty confident it really is a plastic owl. Sorry, Kyle.

As I made my way back south, I could here a few crows and even some mallards making a racket near the southern island. I thought there might be a hawk, so I hustled down there to see who it could be, and looky, looky who I found.

It kept turning its head this way and that, so I’m sure it is a real, live, great horned owl back in Estabrook Park. Hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo! There were even two of them, but I didn’t see the second one until it opted to fly a bit farther west. Darn.

I didn’t see the buffleheads above the falls again, so I kept moving, and as I re-approached the grassy area, I kept my eyes open in case our huntress had caught herself a mouse once more. I didn’t have any luck on that front, but I was thrilled to see yet another old friend farther south, where the ice peters out and the open water resumes.

Kyle and I had just been wondering yesterday where the great blue herons go to find open water when the river is all iced over. Maybe this one just followed the mallards.

I did my best not to disturb the heron, even lying flat on my belly as I slid out onto the ice to get a clear picture, and I am happy to report that it was still fishing in the same spot as I hiked southward out of sight. Phew!

Finally, to round things out, I spotted yet another of our successful huntresses, the hooded merganser hen, taking a breather on the ice this time.

Now, that’s what I call a great morning!

A slow start to the 2nd half of January.

The little bit of sun I was promised in the forecast never materialized, and the breeze was up, so it was not a perfect morning for pictures, but Kyle, who I met when he was participating in the Christmas bird count last month, came along to keep me company.

We saw the pair of goldeneye drakes almost as soon as we got started at the south end. We didn’t see the hen today, but the way these two drakes were chasing each other around makes me think that they expect that she’ll be back..

Just past the goldeneyes, we were treated to the spectacle of a mature bald eagle, first perched in a tree up ahead, and then soaring over the river, but neither of us could get a shot through the bare trees.

Our belted kingfisher was hard at work again at the top of the rapids.

Above the falls, this little chickadee had found something to peck at.

As we approached the north end, this mourning dove did not want to relinquish its perch on the side of this old cottonwood trunk. At the base of the same tree, I spotted a winter wren but couldn’t get a picture. Perhaps Kyle did.

We continued past the meadow to see if there was anyone new on the sliver of open water south of the Port Washington Road bridge, but we only saw some mallards and one goose. I got excited for a second when I spotted a great horned owl on top of the Holliday Inn across the river, but upon closer inspection, I believe it is merely a plastic dummy intended to keep the gulls from nesting there. Darn.

When we finally turned around, we spotted a kestrel gliding over the frozen river around the northern island, but we couldn’t find where it landed.

The rest of our walk back south was uneventful, and back at the south end we finally got the chance to capture a raptor on film when this red-tailed hawk perched in a tree across the river.

I didn’t get a lot of pictures today, so here’s one last shot of our kestrel with her fresh mouse from Saturday.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cloudy again, but with less of a breeze, so here’s hoping more critters will be out and about.

A golden morning in Estabrook

It’s another beautiful day in Estabrook with still air, blue skies, and temps in the teens heading to the twenties. I heard our kingfisher right away at the south end, and caught a glimpse of her, but I couldn’t manage to get her picture. Instead, a bit farther north, I was treated to this new sight for the season: a second goldeneye drake has arrived. Oddly enough, the hen who posed so nicely for us just yesterday was nowhere to be found. Perhaps she found three to be a crowd.

At the falls, I met up with eagle-eyed Lisa, but we didn’t see any eagles this morning, bald or otherwise. There was a red-tailed hawk high up in a tree across the river at the north end, but only one this time, and a nice picture eluded me. When we returned to the boardwalk, we spotted a kestrel in a tree on the far shore, but it was in no mood to pose this morning. I’m not even sure it’s our huntress from yesterday.

After Lisa and I parted ways, and I continued south, I found another American tree sparrow with a much lighter complexion than the first one we saw just a few days ago.

At the grassy field, I didn’t see our kestrel again, but this male downy woodpecker was willing to fill in.

Back beside the open water of the mild rapids, the goldeneye drakes were still on the water, and this one was practicing his mating display even though there were no hens around. Can’t hurt to practice, I guess.

Finally, at the far south end, our hooded merganser hen was busy fishing, but struck this pose for us in between dives.

I saw about a half dozen common mergansers from a distance, but couldn’t get close enough for a picture, and I did not see our gadwall drake today, napping or dabbling.

Lastly, I got more nice pictures than I could use of our kestrel from yesterday, so here are a couple more.

Breakfast served hot and fresh!

It was cold this morning, in the low 20s, but the forecast wind didn’t materialize, so not too bad at all. Plus, lake-effect snow was lazily sifting down to make it feel like being in a snow globe. Best of all, long-time readers Donna and Kate came along to help me see what there was to see.

As soon as we hiked down the stairs from the beer garden to the falls, we were greeted by a mature bald eagle following the river south at about treetop level. It spotted us right away, with its eagle eyes of course, and drifted over the west shore as it passed to keep us at a safe distance.

From there, we hiked up to the north end and back without seeing anything I could take a picture of, and that trend continued until I reached the grassy area where I’ve been seeing the kestrel lately. I couldn’t find her anywhere, at first, so I gingerly stepped down the west edge until I almost had reached the far end, and that’s where she was waiting with another fresh catch.

From there, I guided Donna and Kate up to the pedestrian underpass to show them the trilobite fossil. They continued south atop the bluff, and I returned to the water’s edge, where I found this goldeneye hen in short order.

As I approached the south end, I met Donna and Kate coming back north already, and they reported just having seen common mergansers and hearing the kingfisher, but before I got there, I spotted the hooded merganser hen instead.

I didn’t see the common mergansers, and I did see the kingfisher, but I couldn’t get her picture today. Instead, as I crossed the soccer fields on my way home, I was greeted by a flock of geese taking a break on the grass.

Finally, we did see a red squirrel north of the falls, but it wasn’t in the mood for pictures today, so here’s one last shot of the cutie from a few days ago who just couldn’t seem to get enough of the camera.

The return of the buffleheads…

The beautiful blue skies are gone, along with the mild temperatures, and it feels like winter is back. On the lower river, I saw most of our old friends: the kingfisher, the common mergansers, the hooded merganser hen, the pair of goldeneyes, and the gadwall drake. It was pretty dark still, however, so I just said “hi” and pressed on up the trail.

At the grassy field, I saw our new favorite huntress, the kestrel, on the east side again, the sky had lighten up a bit, and so here she is.

At the north end of the field, I finally caught our trio of gray squirrels in their den again, and one stayed in the entrance way once the other two were out, as before.

Above the falls, I was glad to see our bufflehead pair back on the river and together again.

There was also a herring gull, who appeared to take a bath, and here it is between dips.

At the far north end, there was a quartet of crows cawing away, and I had a hope they were excited about a raptor in the vicinity, but that was not the case. Instead, they just seemed to be excited about something out on the ice.

That’s it for today, but I’ve still got some red squirrel pictures from a couple of days ago that you haven’t seen yet.

Just a stupendous morning in the park

Wow! What a gorgeous morning in Estabrook it turned out to be. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations when I stepped outside because the clouds were back, and it was pretty dark out. The temperature was just around freezing, however, so mild for this time of year, the wind was calm, the trail was firm, and then the sun came out. Pow! It was like being in a postcard.

Best of all, I wasn’t the only one enjoying a break from the deep freeze. I hadn’t even started hiking down the bluff to the river when I just happened to notice that one branch of a bare tree seemed to have a lot of leaves. So, I took a look with my binoculars.

Ha! Those aren’t leaves! Those are a couple dozen cedar waxwings! Holy Moly, what a sight! Some were preening, some were chirping softly, but mostly they were just hanging out. I’ve seen a few do this before, but nowhere close to this many. Incredible.

When I finally got to the river, I saw our common mergansers, who are usually there, but didn’t see a way to get a good picture. Instead, farther north, around where the river bends west, there was a large group of mallards with our goldeneye couple hiding amongst them.

Above the mild rapids, at the southern edge of where the river is frozen over, I searched for our kestrel and found her on the other side, perched on one of the tower guywires.

Above the falls, another red squirrel was out, but less interested in me than the one yesterday.

At the far north end, I arrived just in time to watch another pair of love birds, red-tailed hawks this time, glide north to perch across the river on the copper-clad cupola atop the former Eline’s Chocolate company building, constructed in 1920 and supposedly “inspired by Bromley College, the Apethorpe Orangery, and the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary.

On my way back south, I happened to catch this grey squirrel crossing the river, without getting wet this time.

Back at the falls, a bunch of mallards were posing so nice, I just had to take their pictures.

Back below the falls, I was finally able to capture a scene that has eluded me several times before: a downy woodpecker, male this time, foraging amongst the leaves on the ground. I guess they’ll go wherever the bugs take them.

A bit south of the abandoned bridge abutment, yet another sparrow caught my attention, a white-throated, this time. We’ve seen these before, but not in a while.

When I got back to the grassy patch, where I had spotted the kestrel across the river on my way north, I was thrilled to find that she had come over to the east side. Plus, now the sun was out, and the sky was blue, blue, blue.

Just south of there, at the base of stairway 9, a male northern cardinal was practicing his song that we’ll be hearing all spring.

Back along the open water, I found one of the common merganser hens swimming with a hooded merganser hen, probably the one that caught the huge fish yesterday.

Meanwhile our gadwall drake was taking a well-deserved nap on the ice.

Finally, atop the bluff at the south end, I didn’t see our acrobatic red squirrel again, but this gray squirrel seemed to suggest that “I’ll give you as long as it takes me to finish this nut.”

Everyone enjoys a respite from the cold

The warmup came as forecast, and the critters in Estabrook came out to enjoy the reprieve.

Our belted kingfisher, who I’ve heard all along but couldn’t spot recently, was fishing over some newly open water across from the boardwalk below the beer garden.

Just north of the southern-most stairway, down the bluff from the playground by the middle parking lot, there is a flat patch of ground about the length and width of a football field and only a couple of feet above the river. Last year it was often flooded, and I referred to it as the “mud flats”. This year, the river was lower, on average, this spot flooded much less often, and the grass grew well and tall. At the southeast corner of this patch, water seeps out of the side of the bluff, and this “running” water attracted little birds like a magnet this morning.

The first one I saw was our little winter wren, farther north than I’ve ever seen it.

Then a black-capped chickadee.

And then another new one for us, an American tree sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), if you can believe it, solidly in its winter range.

Here’s a dark-eyed junco foraging on ice formed at the base of the seep.

And here’s a dark-eyed junco, perhaps the same one, all wet from just taking a bath in a tiny pool of liquid water! Can you even imagine how much it must have felt like it needed a bath to splash around when the water and the air are both about 33°F?

Plus, it wasn’t the only one! There was nearly a line, and here are a couple of goldfinches who hopped in next.

I thought for sure I’d see mammals today, and here’s a gray squirrel finally willing to prove me right.

Finally, at the far south end, just before I headed east, I spotted this fun ice formation over the river.

I thought that was going to be my last picture, but I still had a few minutes, so I checked out the ravine that runs under a little pedestrian bridge at the crest of the bluff, and look who I found. A little red squirrel who has never seen a creature as mysterious as me, I guess, and who appeared to be nearly beside itself with curiosity.

Still plenty of new sights to see…

Despite a scarier forecast, the weather in Estabrook was just like yesterday morning, cold as heck but not too breezy and with plenty of sunshine, so not too bad. All the mammals were absent again, and many of the little birds were absent, too. Perhaps they are also fed up with the cold and taking the morning off, but luckily for us, there are plenty of other birds in the park to see!

I heard the kingfisher and saw two pairs of common mergansers right away at the south end, but thought I’d have better light later. A bit farther north, I watched a mature bald eagle circle down to land on the ice, but before I could line up a shot, a herring gull glided by and told it to “keep movin’, Buddy.” Darn. You’d think an apex predator like that could get a little more respect, right?

Finally, about where the river bends west, I spotted a lone goldeneye hen, and it turns out, as with the kestrel, she was willing to pose for a bit if I was willing to lie down for a bit. I guess it’s better late than never to learn that trick, eh?

At the top of the mild rapids, before the river is frozen from shore to shore all the way up to the falls, there was a large group of mallards, and our intrepid gadwall drake was still toughing it out amongst them.

Meanwhile, this trio of mallard drakes was settling down for a morning nap on the edge of the ice.

I didn’t see the kestrel today, and I didn’t see much else either, all the way to the north end and back to the falls, where this cardinal finally greeted me. There was a female nearby, as well, but as soon as I turned in her direction, they both took off. Shoot!

On the open water above the falls, there was another bunch of mallards and this lone common merganser hen in bright sunshine this time.

As I was trying to get the best shot of her that I could, I noticed this amazing row of robins lining up at the edge of the ice for sips of water.

On my way back past the frozen part, before I could reach the open water again, I spotted this little cutie, the smallest bird of the morning and a completely new species for us! Say hello to a fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca), red morph, at the very northern edge of its year-round range. I did not see that coming. Did you?

Here’s a slightly different view, which is not quite as crisp, but which better shows off the red and gray pattern on the side of its face that clinches the identification for me.

When I finally got back to the open water, there were a couple of odd ducks among the mallards, and they quickly headed down river once they saw me.

One turned out to be this hooded merganser hen, whom we’ve probably already seen a few times this winter.

This time, however, as I was looking for the other odd ducks, she caught herself a relatively huge fish. That’ll warm your belly, won’t it?

I did finally catch up to the other ducks, and they turned out to be a pair of common goldeneyes. I’d like to think she’s the same hen we saw earlier, and she finally found herself a drake.

By the time I reached the south end again, the common mergansers were still there, but I already had a nice hen picture, and the kingfisher was long gone. Maybe I’ll have a better chance tomorrow when it is supposed to be a balmy 30°F. We’ll see soon enough.

Mammals on the menu…

It was a bit chilly this morning, and the only mammal I saw on my entire walk through Estabrook, to the north end and back, was this hapless little rodent that our new huntress had caught for her breakfast. I’m sure glad to see that she seems to be making herself at home. “Help yourself to whatever you find in the fridge, Sweetie, but the toaster oven has been on the fritz lately.”

Other than that, I didn’t even see a single gray squirrel venturing out into this cold, but there were plenty of birds up and about, and here’s a black-capped chickadee, …

a northern cardinal, …

a downy woodpecker, …

a house finch, …

and a goldfinch.

Meanwhile, on the water, there were just two groups of mallards, one at the top of the rapids, and one right above the falls. The gadwall drake was still with the first group, and I heard the kingfisher at the south end, but I couldn’t spot her this morning. Instead, there were about a half dozen pairs of common mergansers around, and here’s a hen fishing in the open water above the falls,…

and here’s a male showing off his iridescent green head feathers at the bottom of the mild rapids at the south end. I don’t see that from them nearly as much as I do from the mallards.

This cold snap is due to last another day, so perhaps all the ice forming upstream will send more eagles our way in search of open water. Keep your fingers crossed.

PS. Welcome aboard, Jordan!