Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl, rear view

Close views of our friendly neighborhood kestrel yesterday morning along with the welcome weekend warmth augured well for our annual pilgrimage to Croton Point Park in northern Westchester. Croton Point is an essential waypoint on the New York winter birding circuit because of the amazing variety of birds of prey that congregate there. Unfortunately, Croton Point ain’t what it used to be.

The habitat that distinguishes this site from any other local ecosystem is the remediated landfill around which the park was built. Stands of conifers aren’t hard to come by in New York, nor are wetlands or riverbanks. The tall grass of the elevated landfill mound, on the other hand, attracts raptors, sparrows, pipits, and even meadowlarks with a regularity not seen elsewhere in this region. Too bad the grasslands have been razed.

It seems that work was recently done on the landfill that necessitated the mowing of the precious grass. Why they had to do it at the beginning of this critical season is beyond me. I’d rather complain about it than investigate. What this means is that, though winter usually ushers in winners like Short-eared Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, and Bald Eagle, these birds and others are in short supply as the entire ecosystem has been destabilized. On our visit, we spotted a single Northern Harrier, usually abundant here, and one mangy juvenile eagle doing its best imitation of a vulture. No short-ears, no rough-legs, no birds in general. Besides a Red-winged Blackbird here, a White-throated Sparrow there, and the occasional woodpecker, Croton was disappointingly quiet.

We did get an owl though. Our first owl of 2006 is the same species, possibly even the same bird as our first of 2005. We found a lone Long-eared Owl exactly where we spotted one last year. This long-ear wasn’t exactly offering us its best side, as the photo above illustrates. To be honest, it looked a lot more like a feathered bee hive than a bird. Our view improved immeasurably when a fellow birder (who else visits Croton Point in winter but the binocular-bearing set?) identified a better angle on the owl:

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl, front view

The birding was not spectacular, but we all had a great time, Mason especially, visiting with my aunt Janet, who usually accompanies our sojourns to Croton. That was our morning. The afternoon found me on an errand rather close to Crestwood Lake in Yonkers. This body of water, part of the Bronx River system, is a reliable site for Green-winged Teal; in fact, we got our first look at the Eurasian subspecies here, chronicled in my taxonomical tour de force, A Tale Of Two Teals. No sign of Anas crecca crecca yesterday, but the American Anas crecca carolinensis plied the water in abundance. Wood Duck and American Black Duck were other enjoyable, though anticipated species amidst the throngs of Canada Geese, Mallards, and Hooded Merganser. The big surprise was a very smart Northern Pintail drake. That is one handsome bird!

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.